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The Two Gentlemen of Verona

William Shakespeare

Act II, scenes i-ii

Act I, scenes ii-iii

Act II, scenes iii-iv

Summary

Speed helps Valentine put on his gloves, only to realize that there is one glove too many. The third glove, we quickly realize, belongs to Silvia, the object of Valentine's affection. Valentine, however, is shocked when Speed refers to Silvia as "[s]he that your worship loves" (II.i.15). Valentine interrogates Speed on the source of this knowledge. Speed humorously rattles off a long list of Valentine's lovesick behavior: he adores love songs; sighs; weeps; has no appetite; and crosses his arms discontentedly. Speed says that these love-struck traits are as clear in Valentine as "water in a urinal" (II.i.39-40). Valentine confesses that Silvia has entreated him to write a love letter to an unnamed recipient. Silvia enters, and when Valentine gives her the letter, she coldly replies that it is written in a very scholarly fashion, and insists that he take the letter back. She wished Valentine to write the love letter to her; by misinterpreting her request, he has displeased her. Valentine is disappointed, but Speed chides him for not being overjoyed at receiving a letter from Silvia, even though it is the letter that Valentine originally wrote for Silvia's anonymous "friend." Valentine tries to convince Speed that Silvia is the fairest maid of all, but Speed refuses to be swayed, saying that Valentine's love has blinded his ability to judge rationally.

Proteus and Julia bid a tearful goodbye and exchange rings as a pledge of their devotion to one another. Proteus vows that the ring Julia has given him will remind him eternally of her, his true love. Julia departs wordlessly and Panthino arrives to hasten Proteus aboard the ship to Milan.

Commentary

Shakespeare was fond of implementing a theatrical aside to establish a miniature play-within-a-play, which served to unite the audience with the actors. Speed's gleeful aside upon Silvia's entrance ("O excellent motion! O exceeding puppet! Now will he interpret to her.") invites the reader to judge Valentine and his stuffy love letter (II.i.84-85). The theme of the play-within-a-play recurs throughout Shakespeare's plays, from the foolish Pyramus and Thisbe in A Midsummer Night's Dream to the play in Act III, scene ii of Hamlet , in which Hamlet determines Claudius' guilt by his reaction to the murder on stage. The play-within-a-play illustrates that daily life contains many moments of a dramatic nature. Shakespeare seems to suggest that if one stands back from life with a detached eye, like Speed leaning out into the audience, one comes to see all human interaction as a drama. This forces the reader to consider that the characters in the play (and real people, by extension) may perhaps be mere puppets in a larger plan, whether the plan is divine or Shakespearean (and whether or not there is a difference).

Speed's criticism that love has impeded Valentine's ability to perceive the world rationally introduces an important Shakespearean theme--that of appearances and disguises. Throughout The Two Gentlemen of Verona, characters disguise their appearances (as Julia does later in the play) and their intentions (as Proteus does in his pursuit of Silvia's affection). The layers of disguise in this comedy are somewhat simple, particularly when compared to Shakespeare's masterful tangle of disguises in Twelfth Night . Yet again, the reader can see The Two Gentlemen of Verona as an incubator for Shakespeare's favorite themes, which he develops more fully and with much greater complexity in his later works. /PARAGRAPH

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