The Two Gentlemen of Verona: Act IV
Thus far, I feel like I’ve been quite objective about the play, glossing over the obvious errors about travelling by boat between land-locked cities, etc. I’m not one to lionise Shakespeare (whatever my other half thinks), but nor am I interested in joining the current fad I see online for ‘dissing’ him.
Having said that, Act IV begins with a ‘mote to trouble the mind’s eye‘, though – and more on it later, but Act V trumps even this episode. What am I talking about?
It’s the whole of Act IV.i, encompassing Valentine’s capture by the Outlaws and subsequent promotion to their leadership in under 75 lines. Had this been an essay written by a student, I might have written in the margin: ‘Were you running out of time at this point?‘ It feels clumsier and more contrived than the whole ‘land-locked cities’ saga.
One of the things we see throughout Shakespeare is the reliance on appearance as a reflection of personality – it’s become a catchphrase in my Richard III classes that his disabilities and disfigurements are supposed to be ‘an external manifestation of inward evil‘. In The Tempest, Miranda is convinced by Ferdinand’s pretty boy looks:
There’s nothing ill can dwell in such a temple:
If the ill spirit have so fair a house,
Good things will strive to dwell with’t. (TEMPEST: I.ii)
You might be asking how much has changed, and perhaps little has, but these rough tough outlaws decide to welcome rather than rob Valentine:
‘… partly, seeing you are beautified
With goodly shape …’ (IV.i.54-55)
If I were an outlaw, I’d want someone who looked like a right bastard for my captain, personally. Someone like Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver? HE’s the kind of guy who would make a successful bandit chief.
There’s only one thing noteworthy in the scene for me, and that’s the fact that our hapless Third Outlaw has been banished from Verona for much the same ‘crime’ that Valentine himself has committed.
‘Myself was from Verona banished
For practising to steal away a lady,
An heir, and near allied unto the Duke. (IV.i.46-48)
Interesting that he doesn’t at that stage abandon the pretence to be a rough, tough, murderer. He wants to be more like Second Outlaw, it seems.
Not that long ago, I had a nibble at suggestions that “Shakespeare was misogynist.” As the Act wears on, my respect for Silvia increases. Proteus complains:
‘Silvia is too fair, too true, too holy
To be corrupted with my worthless gifts.
[…] She bids me think how I have been forsworn
In breaking faith with Julia, whom I loved.’ (IV.ii.5-6, 10-11)
Which, presumably, wouldn’t be a problem if he was in Valentine’s shoes? She sounds very much like a prototype for Isabella in Measure For Measure.
I feel some real sympathy for Julia, standing by in disguise to witness her former lover serenade Silvia, and then outrageously suggest that Julia is dead. One of the highlights of the Act, though, is Silvia’s Isabella-like fury at Proteus:
‘My will is even this,
That presently you hie you home to bed.
Thou subtle, perjured, false, disloyal man,
Thunk’s thou I am so shallow, so conceitless,
To be seduced by thy flattery
That hast deceived so many with thy vows?
Return, return, and make thy love amends. (IV.ii.90-96)
Notice how she moves from the formal ‘you‘ to ‘thou‘ as she gets into real spanking-mode. I also enjoyed the fact that she didn’t dehumanise him – when Richard III is full of references to dogs, toads, etc, it’s refreshing and seems to carry more weight simply to call him a ‘disloyal man‘.
Earlier in my tour of the play, I talked about the ‘honour code’ and concepts of friendship – something that William C Carroll expounds on at length in his introduction to the Arden Third. Take a look at this:
For almost all (male) writers, friendship is a possibility among men only, not among women; ‘the ordinary sufficiency of women’, Montaigne asserts, ‘cannot answer this conference and communication, the nurse of this sacred bond: nor seemes their mindes strong enough to endure the pulling of a knot so hard, so fast and durable.
(Edward C Carroll in Introduction to Arden Third Edition).
Montaigne (and indeed Cicero and Bacon) clearly knew absolutely nothing. Of course, it depends on your definition of ‘friendship‘, but it seems that Silvia acts in a spirit of friendship towards Julia, even though they haven’t met. In the play, there’s a feminine sisterhood which defies all attempts to subvert it.
Lance and Crab have had a raw deal so far in this analysis. I imagine that having Crab on stage adds something to the comedy of the play overall (not that I’m convinced it should be classified as a comedy). Lance’s soliloquy in IV.iv can certainly be played for laughs, but by this stage in the play, I’m not much in the mood for laughing. Instead, I see a marvellous analogy for the behaviour of his master.
‘O, ’tis a foul thing when a cur cannot keep himself in all companies! (IV.iv.9-10)
‘He thrusts me himself into the company of three or four gentleman-like dogs under the Duke’s table. He had not been there – bless the mark! – a pissing-while but all the chamber smelt him.’ (IV.iv.16-19)
‘When didst thou see me heave up my leg and make water against a gentlewoman’s farthingale?’ (IV.iv.35-37)
This is exactly what his master has done. The whole place stinks of him, and he certainly has attempted to ‘mark his territory’ on Silvia. Bad dog!
Proteus also seems to make the same mistake that I complained of at the beginning of this piece. It seems highly improbable to me that he trusts ‘Sebastian‘ (itself a nod to the Christian martyr who died full of arrows – Cupid, anyone?):
‘chiefly for thy face and thy behaviour’ (IV.iv.65)
Really? For his face? Without recognising ‘him’? Sorry, Will, I can’t suspend my disbelief enough …
The end of the Act sees Julia and Silvia together, with Julia in full Viola/Cesario (Twelfth Night) mode. And I am running out of words again! We see an interesting episode where another letter (there’s at least one in every act, so far, and it feels almost like Shakespeare is over-reliant on them in this play) is ripped up. Julia may be unlucky in love, but I don’t think she’s stupid, so what we see as the play moves towards its conclusion is surely a series of deliberate mistakes, beginning with handing over the ‘wrong’ letter. Julia ends with a heartfelt soliloquy, when we see, again, the emphasis on outward appearances, as she talks to Silvia’s portrait:
‘If I had such a tire, this face of mine
Were full as lovely as is this of hers’ (IV.iv.183-184)
‘Her hair is auburn, mine is perfect yellow;
If that be all the difference in his love,
I’ll get me such a coloured periwig’ (IV.iv.187-189)
Maybe little HAS changed, after all …
William C Carroll (ed), The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Arden Third Edition (Cengage Learning: London, 2004)