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The Two Gentlemen of Verona

William Shakespeare

Act V, scene iv

Act V, scenes i-iii

Analysis and Themes

Summary

Valentine sits alone in the forest, extolling the virtues of life in the middle of nature. He hears shouts in the distance and hides. Proteus, Silvia, and Julia (still disguised as Sebastian) enter. Proteus pleads with Silvia to give him one kind glance as payment for rescuing her from the outlaws who would have "forced your honour and your love" (V.iv.22). Valentine overhears their discourse but decides to wait to reveal himself. Silvia tells Proteus that she would have preferred being eaten by a lion to being saved by him. She emphasizes her love for Valentine and her hatred for Proteus' willingness to betray his friend. "In love/Who respects friend?" he asks her, "All men but Proteus" she replies (V.iv.53-55).

Proteus grows enraged at Silvia and moves to rape her. When Silvia cries out, Valentine angrily leaps out of the bushes and curses Proteus for his betrayal. Proteus begs for Valentine's forgiveness. Valentine immediately pardons Proteus and offers Silvia to him, at which point Sebastian faints. When Sebastian regains consciousness, he explains that he fainted because he forgot to give Proteus' ring to Silvia. Sebastian then produces two rings: that which Julia had given to Proteus, which he later intended for Silvia, and that which Proteus had given to Julia. When Proteus queries Sebastian on how he came to possess Julia's ring, Julia reveals her identity. Proteus immediately decides that Julia is more beautiful after all and decides to marry her instead of Silvia.

Thurio, the Duke and the outlaws arrive. Thurio claims Silvia as his, but Valentine threatens to kill him if he touches her. Thurio confesses that he doesn't really love Silvia, and that it would be stupid to be killed for someone he doesn't love. The Duke tells Thurio that he is a "degenerate," and applauds Valentine's noble behavior: "... by the honour of my ancestry/I do applaud thy spirit... Sir Valentine,/Thou art a gentleman, and well derived" (v.iv.136-143). The Duke grants Valentine's request for clemency for his band of gentlemanly outlaws and Valentine decrees that both couples should be married on the same day.

Commentary

Silvia demonstrates a religious zeal in her reprimand of Proteus for betraying Valentine and Julia. "Thou hast no faith left now, unless thou'dst two,/And that's far worse than none. Better have none/Than plural faith, which is too much by one,/Thou counterfeit to thy true friend" she scolds (V.iv.50-53). Her speech rings with an endorsement of monotheism, in which one devotes oneself to a single god (and simultaneously condemns heathen polytheistic religions). Silvia's language thus implies that the individual's fidelity in romantic relationships is as important as one's commitment to God, and breaking that fidelity is therefore comparable to a mortal sin.

The greenwood serves again as the locus of non-traditional social structure. Despite his aristocratic birth, Thurio is toppled from the social hierarchy and replaced by Valentine. The Duke erases any previous question about Valentine's social status by renaming him "Sir Valentine" (V.iv.142). One can interpret the ease with which this transformation is accomplished as a comment on the foolishness of judging individuals based on their birth. The superficiality with which language situates individuals in the social hierarchy, however, renews the question of how capable language actually is of representing truth.

The conclusion of The Two Gentlemen of Verona is perhaps the least satisfying part of the play, as a puzzling wave of shallow emotions and a plague of unresolved issues make the ending seem forced. Valentine curses Proteus' evildoing, yet pardons him immediately and offers Silvia to him as a token of his friendship. Proteus instantly decides, after all the trouble he has gone through to woo Silvia, that he prefers Julia (even in her male disguise). Thurio decides that he never loved Silvia. These uninspired reversals make the events leading up to this point seem irrelevant. Furthermore, the uneasy ambiguities of the play are allowed to coexist. Julia remains disguised as a man, though she has revealed her identity. Valentine shows that he doesn't care who he marries as long as Proteus isn't angry with him. Silvia, Valentine's bride-to-be, previously so vociferous in her criticism, is silenced for the last 120 lines of the play. Valentine's potential homosexuality is neither challenged nor addressed. It seems that Shakespeare felt compelled to wrap matters up conventionally in order to avoid having to resolve the often complex issues of class, gender, and sexuality at work throughout the play. However, the forced quality of the conclusion indicates that the themes explored in The Two Gentlemen of Verona have an importance that mere convention cannot diminish, a fact supported by Shakespeare's continued exploration of these themes in future, better developed, plays.

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