While The Two Gentlemen of Verona
is likely the Bard at his consummate worst, it is also one of his early plays, and is not without enjoyment in its own right. Herein is the early development of some of his major themes in comedy: disguise, homosocial relations, friendship, betrayal, misguided love. The play, which centers on two Veronese men, Proteus and Valentine, and their respective loves Julia and Silvia. The drama emerges from the two men's simultaneous pursuit for Silvia, and the resolution comes from a strange reversal of Proteus's affections. Overall the play feels quite sloppily composed, and naturally concluded, for example, the sudden and complete reversal of Valentine's feelings of betrayal by his friend:
VALENTINE...The private wound is deepest: O time most accurst,
'Mongst all foes that a friend should be the worst!
PROTEUSMy shame and guilt confounds me.
Forgive me, Valentine: if hearty sorrow
Be a sufficient ransom for offence,
I tender 't here; I do as truly suffer
As e'er I did commit.
VALENTINEThen I am paid;
And once again I do receive thee honest.
This, among some of the other scenes, particularly toward the end of the play, when the Bard's interest in his own play seems to dwindle, feel more fated and rushed than natural or human. The perhaps saving grace of this play is the character of Launce and his dog, Crab. I read this play in anticipation of watching it performed by the "Shakespeare on the Common" troupe in Boston, which staged a modernized telling of the play set in the singing sixties. While the production felt a bit self-indulgent and perhaps over-committed to its updated era, I found that the character of Launce and the unpredictable character of an untrained dog gave the play a comedic element which is untranslatable in the text. The dog is no actor, has no lines, but in refusing to obey our expectations of a smooth performance, jibes us with an unexpected, though wholly appreciated humor.
As a closing note, I feel that some time, somewhere, in the 1990's, a high-school staging of this play has to have been turned into a movie, alongside Twelfth Night
's "She's the Man," Midsummer Night's Dream
's "Get Over It," etc. This play, despite it's short comings, would lend itself quite perfectly to the immaturity, and flighty whims and changes in temper of high school students, early in the bloom of life and love.