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Julian Meynell's Books

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Shakespeare's Two Gentlemen of Verona

The Two Gentlemen of Verona (Folger Shakespeare Library) - Paul Werstine, Barbara A. Mowat, William Shakespeare

The Two Gentlemen of Verona is probably one of Shakespeare's earliest plays.  It's also one of those Shakespeare plays that people like to get their hate on for purely anachronistic reasons.  In it, Shakespeare once again fails to parrot the morality of an uncritical middle class North American and as such it only makes sense to vilify him.

The plot falls well withing the typical Shakespearean comedy (yes there is a cross dressing woman in it).  Its much more of a comedy than most of his works and is meant to be taken as light farce more than is typical for Shakespeare.  The plot revolves around two friends, one named Valentine who represents romantic love and one named Proteus who represents violent changeable love.  The plot is one where everyone is trying to woo a woman and various hijinks ensue.  It is the climatic scene where Proteus attempts to rape the main heroine and is stopped and then forgiven by Valentine which brings on all the controversy.

The condemnation comes from a lack of understanding of models of male friendship that go back to classical times and which have only really been abandoned in the twentieth century.  We are supposed by modern audiences to condemn Proteus and go all outragey at the ending, but that misses the point that the play is a farce.  In fact, it is the broadest comedy I have read by Shakespeare.  It also misses the point that Valentine and Proteus are meant to stand for two strains of the way in which Love was perceived at this point and Shakespeare does in fact side with romantic love.  There is much in this play which is very broad comedy and satirical.  The problem is that people try to read it like Oscar Wilde, but it is really closer to things like South Park.

I can't leave a review of the play without mentioning the character of the clown Lance and his relationship with his dog "crab".  This is very broad comedy and the best bit in the play.  

A good play, albeit not one of SHakespeare's best.  Once again, a Shakespeare play that in general is poorly understood and one in which much of the commentary on it is useless.