Sunday, May 04, 2008

The Two Gentlemen of Verona (2)

Time for the complications and confusions to develop – so back to Milan.

Firmly in Silvia’s aura, Valentine plays out a game of insult-jousting with Thurio, the not-a-cat-in-the-proverbial, father-favoured, ‘rich’ rival to Silvia’s hand. Casting an aging dandy in the role gave no doubt as to the result – having the rivals sit facing each other, with Silvia as arbitrator in between, and the assembled cupids and musicians applauding each of Valentines successful ‘passes’ beautifully emphasised the ritual nature of the exchange.

The Duke enters – a richer version of controlled adulthood – contrasting instantly with the similar aged Thurio and further pushing this loon’s chances into the shadows.

As fits the play, there is a continuation of word games resulting in a confirmation of Valentine’s friendship for Proteus swiftly followed by the Duke’s exit, and the friend’s entrance.

Love at first sight – only visible in the slightest of gestures, but no doubt: Proteus has fallen head over heals for Silvia. Silvia exits, summoned by her father and takes Thurio with her leaving Valentine and Proteus alone in the court of love. Yet another set piece exhibition - exposing the folly of love – twisted now by our knowledge of Proteus’s dissimulation and made piquant by Valentine’s delight in his returned friend.

And, as soon as his friend leaves the scene, Proteus delivers a soliloquy on the scientific principles of love, … excusing, as only adolescent justification’s can, his complete desertion of both the pure love for Julia and the platonic love for Valentine. All through The Two Gentlemen of Verona there are echoes of other plays – especially Romeo and Juliet (which is not surprising as they are said to share a common source) and this speech and reasoning is surely the ‘folk-wisdom’ used by Benvolio when he attempts to turn Romeo from one love to another by showing ‘a swan’ to his ‘crow’.

Proteus leaves to be followed by the two servants and the dog. Again, underplayed in the BBC production – and a trifle difficult to follow. What did become clear is the dog – an emblem of faith – and Launce are linked. Fidelity in ‘Fido’ here seems to be reversed though, the man is more faithful to the dog than vica-versa. This is a very indifferent hound. Off to the ale house with them (page boys drinking!).

Proteus passes through – still cogitating – and exposes the ploy he will use to gain Silvia. Valentine is plotting to fly Milan with Silvia to get married – and is having a silken rope made to gain access to her window. Proteus will expose his friend to gain favour of the Duke and get Valentine out of the scene.

A final visit to Verona where Julia, dog like, declares her love and devises a means to follow – dressed as a boy. There is a degree of rudeness and vulgarity in the talk with her maid which has been missing from the talk of the gallant males – although it was there in the servants. There is talk of pins and codpieces and Julia’s transformation from Virgin to page takes on more the status of emblem than theatrical device. Julia also blindly declares her faith in Proteus.

Which leads right into the central act of faithlessness.

Proteus follows through with his master stroke – he betrays Valentine to the Duke. And the strength of the production really shows at this point. The Duke is reason – he thinks and reacts with a determined calm. No matter how Proteus wraps up the betrayal, the Duke sees through – and there is guilt on Proteus’s face. But the Duke has to act, and will act.

Proteus leaves, Valentine enters – and in another of those easy to overplay scenes, exposes his own excess of zeal and deception: After all, he was about to ‘steal’ Silvia away. There was a gentle humour to the playing of this scene – a patient but forceful irony in an inevitable outcome. Valentine’s banishment is almost gently given – his comparison to the rash Phaeton, regretful.

Valentine, left alone, now has to deliver one of the more famous speeches of Shakespeare – and despite its fame, here it sounded just right. His lament at being banished, his loss of Silvia and the ensuing numbness of the world, all strike true.

In comes Proteus and his servant. In a strained joke, Launce makes to strike at Valentine who is now ‘nothing’ – it’s a piece of stage business that doesn’t work, and I suspect never did. There is an exchange where Valentine tells the already knowing Proteus of his banishment – attempts to ‘comfort’ him and promises that time will heal – and letters help. He leads him gently to the gate from the town.

Launce is left to find Speed – but does not move. He shows his brute understanding of his ‘betters’, and then moves on to a lament of his own – his love, a milkmaid, virtues in ‘black and white’ in the form of letter … he is soon joined by Speed in a catechism of the practical qualities needed in a wife.

Eventually Launce tells Speed he should have gone straight to his master – and the boy runs off to face a ‘swinged’ backside for being late – and Launce rushes after him to ‘delight’ in the swinging. Launce also makes it clear it is the ‘love letter’ which is the cause of the boys discomfort – and the observer’s pleasure: As clear a comment on the nature of this ‘Romance’ as any in the play.

At this point there is a serious degree of discomfort in both ‘Gentlemen of Verona’ – and an inevitable swinging coming their way – love is a strict mistress.

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Craig said...

The rope ladder is a wonderful bit of comedy, isn't it? That still from the BBC is really something, too--Shakespeare, or early 80s music video? The plot just hums along like a romantic comedy we might see today, although I think Shakespeare has already gotten confused about whether we're supposed to be in Verona or Milan by this point. There's that intimate knowledge of Italian geography the Oxfordians are always talking about, I guess. (And while we're on _that_ topic, trace the sea-route from Verona to Milan on a map! Intimate knowledge, indeed.)

Alan K.Farrar said...

Great observation on the still!

(Well, seeing as Milan is just up the coast from Bristol - Severn navigable for some distance, and the forest they run off to is north of Nottingham, the world is really a small place.)