Two Gentlemen of Verona

Okay kids.  Today, I’m going to talk to you about rape.  Not in a humorous, belittling way, mind you.  But in an honestly disturbed, “the ending of this play is really fucking weird” sort of way. Proteus tries to rape Silvia, though Valentine leaps out to stop it.  The problem is really what happens next: Proteus makes a weak apology, and Valentine immediately forgives him.  Silvia does not have another line for the rest of the play, stunned in silence.

Misogynism is the word for this, I believe.

A little background on the plot that leads us to that strange point: Proteus is a freeloading frat boy of a gentleman (from Verona), and so his father sends him abroad to Milan to make an actual living.  While he is abroad, he maintains a long distance relationship with a girl named Julia.  Because she misses her boyfriend so much, Julia dresses up as a boy so she can get to Milan as well.  But when she gets there, she discovers that  Proteus is a “subtle perjured, false, disloyal man!”   Proteus has fallen in love with Silvia.  Silvia, however is in love with Proteus’ best friend, Valentine.  Oh, yes, and in that final scene – Julia watches her boyfriend try to rape Silvia.

Rape is actually a theme that subtly runs throughout this play.  (Like the movie Alien)

In our strange final scene, Valentine has become king of the bandits, though they make it clear that “Fear not; he bears an honourable mind, and will not use a woman lawlessly.”  Indeed, Valentine agrees to join their band because they “detest such vile base practices.”  Earlier in the play, Valentine even expresses the idea that “A man that hath a tongue, I say, is no man If with his tongue he cannot win a woman.”  thereby immasculating the role of rapist.  Yet he also says that “For ‘Get you gone’ she doth not mean ‘away!'” 

From the creepy “‘No’ means ‘Maybe'” school of thought.

The question becomes how to make that final scene palatable, or even believable, to an audience.  It’s not like the rape is used as a comedic gag – it’s presented as an immoral deed.  But the dialogue is just too abrupt to sit well.  Valentine insults his friend: “I am sorry I must never trust thee more, But count the world a stranger for thy sake.  The private wound is deepest: O time most accurst!  ‘Mongst all foes that a friend should be the worst!”  The anger is more concerned with a general violation of the bro code, rather than with the action itself.  Even Valentine, who apparently represents nobility, views his girlfriend as an object instead of a person.  Then we have the feeble apology of Proteus, which I present in its entirety: “My shame and guilt confounds me.  Forgive me Valentine: if heavy sorrow Be a suffiecient ransom for offense, I tender’t here; I do as truly suffer As e’er I did commit.”

My disgust can only be expressed with a phallic monster.

Because really, that’s bullshit.  He is seriously claiming that his guilt is equal to the suffering of the woman he sexually assaulted.  The head of ever social worker in the audience would implode at that statement.  And Valentine’s reaction almost makes it worse: “Then I am paid; And once again I do recieve thee honest.”  Seriously.  Just like that?  Fuck you, William Shakesepeare.  What is happening?

In case you couldn’t guess: my concept for this show is a college fraternity as if designed by H. R. Giger.

The only way I can consider staging this play is with a growing sense of dread that creeps into the gentlemen’s ideas of love.  The script has a very forced happy ending, and it seems doubtful that either of the couples can be truly happy with each other.  But if you embrace how disturbing the ending is, you can maybe make something of it.  If you analyze the rest of the final scene, EVERYTHING seems rushed.  It easily could be the playwright trying to tie up loose ends before the show goes up.  But it could also be Valentine as a terrifying warlord who invokes fear in everyone.  If you stage a brutal beating for Valentine’s entrance after the attempted rape, the meaning changes.  His forgiveness of Proteus seems mocking, and everyone else reacts in fear to appease the dragon that has awakened.  At least, that’s what I would do.  You need to do something to the play that radically alters it, if you want it to do well.

This is a real thing. Look it up.

That’s all I really have to say on this play.  It’s interesting at times, but there’s nothing in it that really makes it worth tackling.  I’m pretty sure the only reason to produce this would be to prove you can.  Honestly, I’d like to see a production from a female director, because my understanding of the subject as a male is fairly limited.  I can stand here and say objectively: that is grotesque.  But it requires a woman, who actually understands what it means to be put in that situation, to lead that text viscerally and genuinely to an acceptable conclusion.

Also, female directors lend validity to stories about misogynist sociopaths.

So for this play I will end with a quote from Launce, Proteus’ clownish servant.  It is one of the comedic distractions from the action of the play, but is the only genuinely beautiful thing in the script.  It regards a man’s unconditional love for his dog: “I have sat in the stocks for puddings he hath stolen, otherwise he had been executed; I have stood on the pillory for geese he hath kill’d, otherwise he had suffer’d for’t.” Ultimately, Launce takes the blame for peeing under the table at court, because he loves this dog more than any other man in this play apparently loves a woman.

This week was depressing.  Next week I’ll try Love’s Labours Lost.  One of these obscure comedies has to be good, right?

2 Responses to “Two Gentlemen of Verona”
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  1. […] remember when Two Gentlemen of Verona had a fairly nonchalant stance on rape?  Well, Merchant of Venice has a similar problem with […]

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