Thoughts on “The Two Gentlemen of Verona”

The next Shakespeare play that I read was “The Two Gentlemen of Verona”.  Another comedy, this one features, well, two gentlemen from Verona, Valentine and Proteus.  Valentine is heading off to the city for some adventure and politicking, but Proteus can’t go because he’s wooing Julia.  At first, she doesn’t care for him, but ultimately does come to love him after the advice of her servant.  However, Proteus ends up being sent to the city anyway through so machinations, and once there finds out that despite his mocking Proteus for falling in love, Valentine has fallen in love with Silvia, but her father has promised her to someone else.  Proteus then falls in love with Silvia as well and rats out Valentine who was trying to elope with her, which gets Valentine exiled from the city, and he falls in with some outlaws.  Proteus’ attempts to woo Silvia get him nowhere, and she eventually arranges to run off to find Valentine.  Julia, distraught from not hearing from Proteus, dresses as a man and goes to the city and finds out that Proteus is wooing Sylvia.  Sylvia and her escort happen to get captured by the very outlaws that Valentine leads, and Proteus and company arrive to save her at right about that time.  They get everything straightened out, and Valentine is set to marry Sylvia and Proteus is set to marry Julia, which is where the play ends.

I suppose the ultimate comment on how much I liked this comedy is that before writing this post I made sure that I looked to see if this play was really supposed to be a comedy.  The plot isn’t really conducive to humour, at least not for me.  I don’t find a friend trying to betray his friend so that he can woo a woman while forgetting about the woman he has already wooed and won particularly funny, and this is only made worse by the fact that at the end we are supposed to, I think, be happy for Julia that she manages to win him back.  I’m just not really interested in laughing at someone that unsympathetic, especially since neither he nor Valentine nor Sylvia nor Julia are really comic characters.  I’d make any one of them the straight person in any comedy, and the play focuses on them and has them play off of each other and other, more minor characters, none of which are all that comic characters either.  So we don’t have normal characters playing off and getting frustrated by the oddities and idiocies of the people around them, or of the plot, and so it really comes across as a more straight plot with some comedy scenes and lines thrown in to make it a comedy.

That being said, Shakespeare’s gift for banter and dialogue is still on display here, but what I noticed in this play is that the only difference between his banter in the early comedies and his banter in the early tragedies is that he uses more puns in the comedies.  Otherwise, the cadence and structure of the banter seems to be pretty much identical.  You would think that I’d appreciate that given that in general I like puns, but the dialogue doesn’t really seem to settle on being either the mean-spirited punning banter of two rivals or the fun-spirited punning banter of people legitimately misunderstanding each other, and the cases where it does the former only make the overall play seem less comic than it could have been.  As such, the play pretty much aligns with my impressions of his first comedy, “The Comedy of Errors”:  well-written, but I don’t find it funny.

Next up is “Love’s Labour’s Lost”, so we’ll see what my impressions of that are after I read it.


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