“And that my love may appear plain and free, All that was mine in Silvia I give thee.”

The Two Gentlemen of Verona

Acts Four and Five

By Dennis Abrams

Act Four:  Valentine and Speed are returning home to Verona through the woods after Valentine’s banishment when they are ambushed by “outlaws.”  Impressed by Valentine’s bearing and demeanor, they ask him to lead them (or be killed).  Meanwhile, back in Verona, Proteus is briefly troubled by his conscience but continues to court Silvia, who is shocked at his betrayal of both Valentine and Julia.  When the disguised Julia arrives, she quickly learns what has transpired, and decides to bide her time.  Silvia, on the other hand, has had enough, and enlists her friend Sir Eglamour to help her escape her impending marriage to Thurio and join with Valentine in Mantua.  Meanwhile, Proteus has hired Julia (known to him as Sebastian) to deliver a letter and ring to Silvia – the very same ring that Julia had given him at the time of his departure.  But Silvia, sympathizing with Julia’s plight, once again rejects Proteus’ advances.  While meanwhile, Launce has been trying to sort out the problems caused by his misbehaving obviously untrained dog, Crab.

Act Five:  News reaches the Duke that his daughter has fled Milan in search of Valentine, and when Proteus, Thurio and Julia hear of it, they all decide to go in search of her.  Proteus finds her first, and rescues her from the outlaws who have captured her.  But when she still continues to reject him, he decides to take her by force (rape I suppose one could say), not knowing that Valentine is watching.  Valentine stops Proteus, rescues Silvia, and bitterly denounces the actions and treachery of his former friend.  But when Proteus begs Valentine for forgiveness, Valentine not only immediately accepts his apology, but declares that Proteus can have Silvia after all.  Hearing this, Julia/Sebastian faints – at which point her true identity is discovered, and she is reunited with Proteus.  Valentine’s gang of outlaws enters with the captured Duke and Thurio.  Thurio tries to stake his continued claim to Silvia, but immediately gives her up when threatened with physical violence by Valentine.   The Duke consents to the marriage of Silvia and Valentine, and pardons all the Outlaws.


OK.  As I wrote earlier, it seems to me that your perspective on the play is going to be shaped by the following passage.  Proteus’ attempt to rape Silvia has been thwarted by Valentine.  Proteus repents of his actions and apologizes to Valentine who says:

And once again I do receive thee honest.

Who by repentance is not satisfied

Is not of heaven nor earth.  For these are pleased;

By penitence th’Eternal wrath’s appeased.

And that my love may appear plain and free,

All that was mine in Silvia I give thee.

In other words, as Tanner points out, “Silvia is offered by her lover to the man who, twenty-four lines previously (three minutes?  two?)  tried to rape her.  Silvia herself doesn’t say another word for the remainder of the play – not surprisingly, you may think.  But George Eliot described this moment as ‘disgusting’; and Quiller-Couch, who, you feel, knows a cad when he sees one, harrumphed that ‘there are by this time no gentlemen in Verona’.  By and large, readers have been able, despite its psychological implausibility, to just about accept the immediate forgiveness – for forgiveness counts as a generosity and a grace, and is godlike.  But there’s no doing anything about those last two lines.  Either they have to be explained away (young Shakespeare in thrall to conventions he had not yet mastered); or allowed to stand as a scandal and disgrace – either as a sign of the playwright’s callowness, or as a whiff of a more barbaric age.  Clearly, Valentine’s offer to Proteus is, by any standard and from any point of view, entirely unacceptable.  But, before we retreat to the Club House with Quiller-Couch, we might ask, what was Shakespeare – what might he have been – doing?”

Personally, I think that Shakespeare, throughout the play, illustrates the ridiculous behavior of every man in the play except for Launce – be it the ladder scene, the outlaws offering to make Valentine their king “But if thou scorn our courtesy, thou diest,” everybody comes off badly.  From Goddard:

“Leaving out a minor servant, an innkeeper, and a band of outlaws, there are eight men in the cast.  We have taken a look [see my previous post] at the two gentlemen themselves and at Launce.  The other clown, Speed, though he is intelligence itself compared with the gentlemen of the play, impresses us mainly as a mere trifler and trickster with words.  That leaves the two fathers, Antonio and the Duke, and two other gentlemen, Sir Thurio and Sir Eglamour.  The fathers are a typical pair of patriarchal tyrants.  Proteus’ father sums himself up in one line.

For what I will, I will, and there an end,

And Silvia’s father discloses himself in one practice:  he keeps his daughter under lock and key at night.  Sir Thurio, ‘a foolish rival to Valentine,’ for Silvia’s hand,

Vain Thurio, whom my very soul abhors,

as that lady describes him, is a complete nincompoop, a sort of first sketch for Andrew Aguecheek in Twelfth Night.  In Sir Eglamour, whom Silvia engages to help her escape, we think at first that finally we have come on a chivalric figure.

O Eglamour, thou art a gentleman,

she declares, and even if she doesn’t, we are tempted to stress that ‘thou.’  But alas! when the two are met by outlaws, Sir Eglamour abandons the lady to them and runs – at top speed it is implied.  Shakespeare was nothing if not thoroughgoing in this play.  If there is anything in this ironic way of taking it, he apparently decided that it should live up to its title and that there should not be one genuine gentleman in it – except for Launce, who, by a stroke that seems almost to prove the poet’s sarcastic purpose, is chivalric to his dog to the point of Quixotism.  Catch that thrust, and you see how delightfully the story of the clowns is integrated with the rest of the play.  Launce, the gentleman!  Or we might, without stretching it too far, include Speed and have the two gentlemen of Verona!

Compared with their crew of attendant gentlemen in the other sense, the two women are epitomes of virtue and intelligence.  This, too, is prophetic of the superiority that Shakespeare almost always gives his heroines over his ‘heroes’ in comedy, and often in tragedy.

If one were to seek a passage brief enough to quote that illustrates the inanity of this play if taken at face value, one might choose the moment when the Duke, Silvia’s father, seeks Proteus’ aid in forwarding the match between Sir Thurio and his daughter:

Duke:   What might we do to make the girl forget

The love of Valentine, and love Sir Thurio?

Pro:      The best way is to slander Valentine

With falsehood, cowardice, and poor descent,

Three things that women highly hold in hate.

Duke:   Ay, but she’ll think that it spoke in hate.

Pro:      Ay, if his enemy deliver it;

Therefore it must with circumstance be spoken

By one whom she esteemeth as his friend.

Duke:   Then you must undertake to slander him.

Pro:      And that, my lord, I shall be loath to do.

‘Tis an ill office for a gentleman,

Especially against his very friend.

Duke:   Where your good word cannot advantage him,

Your slander never can endamage him;

Therefore the office is indifferent,

Being entreated to it by your friend.

Pro:      You have prevail’d, my lord.

It would seem impossible to go beyond that.  But Shakespeare does go beyond it – far beyond – in the closing scene of the play.  Since it is so long to quote, I will condense and paraphrase its salient points.  If the effect is that of parody, I invite anyone who does not remember it to inspect the scene as Shakespeare wrote it and to see whether I have not been faithful to both thought and action.  As for the verse, it will be an actual advantage to have that absent for the moment, for ‘poetry’ can conceal a deal of nonsense.

Proteus has rescued Silvia from the band of outlaws, who, he tells her, would have ravished her but for him:

Sil.:       I’d rather have been eaten by a lion than rescued by you.  You faith-

less man, you are a counterfeit friend.

Pro:      What does friendship count for when a man is in love?  If you wont

respond to gentle words, I’ll force you to yield to me.

Val.:     (Coming forward):  Ruffian!  let her go.

Pro:      Valentine!

Val:      Never will I trust you again.

Pro:      I’m ashamed of myself, forgive me.

Val:      That’s all I ask.  If that’s how you feel, I’ll take you back as my friend

and to prove that I mean what I say I hereby resign to you all my

claims to Silvia.

Jul:       Oh, how unhappy am I in that case!  (She faints.  Then she comes to and the

rings reveal her identity.)

Pro:      How?  Julia!

Jul:       Yes.  You ought to blush that you made me dress in boy’s clothes.  But it is

better for a woman to change her clothes than for a man

to change his mind.

Pro:      You are right.  What did I ever see in Silvia anyway that you do not

surpass her in?
Val:      Good!  Clasp hands on that.

Pro:      Heaven knows this is what I wanted all along.

(Enter Sir Thurio and Duke)

Thu:      There’s Silvia, and she’s mine!

Val:      Stop, or I’ll kill you.

Thu:      Take her, Valentine!  I don’t care a straw for her.  A man is a fool to risk

death for a girl who doesn’t love him.

Duke:   Good for you, Valentine!  You are a well-born gentleman.  [He had

Shortly before called him a ‘peasant.’]  Take my daughter.

Some commentators have tried to explain this psychological hash on the ground that Shakespeare had to have his ‘happy ending’ at any price.  Others have tried to squirm out of the absurdity by talk about the Renaissance conception of friendship as transcending love.  But the notes of disgust or apology on the part of the critics are too nearly unanimous to escape the inference that nobody likes the ending.  Why, t hen, try to make ourselves think that Shakespeare liked it, except in an ironical sense, any better than we do?  The two possibilities are plain.  Either this is excellent burlesque of ‘gentlemanly’ manners and morals, or else the young author fooled himself as well as the rest of us by swallowing such silliness because it was sweetened by melodious verse.  Take your choice.  For myself, I prefer the alternative implying that one of the greatest geniuses of the ages was not quite a fool even as a young man.

The play, taken thus, is not satire in the usual sense.  The satirist so hates the custom, institution, or human type he is exposing or deriding, that he ceases, like any man in a passion, to see truly.  In lashing his victim he lashes himself into blindness.  But Shakespeare is like Chaucer.  He is so full of humanity, humor, and poetry that it is easy to miss the cutting edge of his condemnation.

If we reread the play in the light of this hypothesis, we see how full it is of hits at the education of the young Renaissance gentleman.

Home-keeping youth have ever homely wits,

says Valentine.  It is about his wisest remark.  In view of Launce’s homely wit and profound humor one wonders whether all the travel and adventure, the experiences of camp and court, the university training, the music and sonnet-writing that were demanded of the cultured young gentleman of the time were worth the trouble.  One of the best strokes of all is the fact that the outlaws pick Valentine as their captain because he is a great linguist!

This interpretation of the play, I believe, both prophesies and is born out by what Shakespeare did in the rest of his works.  From The Two Gentlemen of Verona to The Tempest, without any deviation, he drew one portrait after another of the fashionable gentleman, either Italian or after the Italian model, and there is no possible mistaking what he thought of them, no matter how good their tailors or how ‘spacious’ they themselves ‘in the possession of dirt’ (as Hamlet remarked of Ouric’s real estate).  Boyet, Don Armadio, Gratiano, Tybalt, the Claudio of Much Ado, Bertram, Parolles, Sir Andrew Aguecheek, the ‘popinjay’ whom Hotspur scorned, Roderigo, Iachimo:  these are just a few of the more striking examples, to whom should be added, in spite of the anachronisms, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Osric, Paris (in Troilus and Cressida), and even, in some respects, men like Bassanio and Mercutio, not to mention many of the anonymous ‘gentlemen’ and ‘lords’ scattered throughout the plays.  Let anyone who doubts trace the word ‘gentleman’ with the help of a concordance in the texts of Shakespeare’s works as a whole.  He will be surprised, I think, to find how often the situation or context shows it to be used with ironical intent.

There is a story that Abraham Lincoln, on being told that in England no gentleman ever blacks his own boots, asked in his quiet manner, ‘Whose boots does he black?’  If I am not mistaken, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, even more quietly, makes the same point.”


So what do you think?  Is Goddard right?  Is George Eliot?  Is Harold Bloom when he notes, “What ensues between the two gentlemen is so manifestly peculiar that Shakespeare cannot have expected any audience to accept this, even as farce?”


And a couple of points:

1.  Note that this will not be the only time in Shakespeare that the characters leave the city and go into the woods to find love and themselves.

2.  And always keep in mind that whenever there’s a female character dressed as a boy, it would have been played by a boy actor dressed as a woman pretending to be a boy.

I’ll post again Sunday night.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

22 Responses to “And that my love may appear plain and free, All that was mine in Silvia I give thee.”

  1. falstaff says:

    All that was mine in Silvia I give thee.

    Couldn’t this mean his love for her and not her? Meaning I’ve restored my faith in you.
    Either way … Quite Gentlemanly, right? 😉

    • Falstaff (love the name by the way…I’m going to have a LOT to say on the subject of Falstaff):

      I wish I could agree, but I think the text is fairly clear “And, that my love my appear plain and free,/All that was mine in Silvia I give thee.” And of course, Julia’s response “O me unhappy!” (followed by a swoon), seems to me to indicate that that’s exactly how she read it as well.

  2. I wish I had a time machine to go back and watch the London audiences watch this play. Your version of Shakespeare attempt to show the utter uselessness of “gentlemen” makes the play more palatable to my modern sensibility. The play feels like a chopped down version of a much longer play.

  3. Catherine says:

    I’m thrilled to have finished a Shakespeare play — regardless of the play’s merits and faults. I like the theory that the male friendship bond is stronger than love, though like the chameleon Proteus, there allegiance seems subject to change and are probably not to be trusted. I also like the Abraham Lincoln story/connection.

    • Catherine:

      Congratulations! And let me tell you, the more Shakespeare you read (just like when you read Proust),. the easier he gets to read, as you learn his language, learn his rhythms, etc. And the plays just get better and better from here.

  4. MG says:

    Seems to me it is the sycophant thing, in fact. If the guy is a gentleman/rich/someone you want to impress, you give him what he seems to want, rather than what the gal or even yourself might want.

    The pace here is rapid for me and my current life, so I might have missed a lot, but I find the gesture to put an exclamation point on the irony of ‘Gentlemen’ concept, esp. when you consider the value of a woman was based upon her ‘intactness’ – ahem.

    A lot of bad behavior is swept under the rug to keep the family names of cads clean. Not so much these days, but is that not one of the theories as to why the Ripper has never been identified? And unmarried women who became pregnant — it was always their fault, even if the children of all the housemaids looked just like the eldest son. (That is, if they were even allowed to be around at all after unwed pregnancy.) It was just not done for the ‘higher ups’ to be less than totally respected.

    If I understand it well, it corresponds roughly to our modern behavior toward famous and rich people (though this is seemingly voluntary). They rarely have to buy what they want, or even behave nicely. Folks bend over backward to give them whatever they can, no matter how troll-like they seem to be. How many women would offer Paris Hilton their boyfriend just to be able to say…. well, what exactly?

    And this does not apply only to the actions of commoners or the masses toward the rich/famous/titled. Those groups include plenty of individuals who are just as likely to appall with their smarmy sycophancy towards one another. So, was it a case of trying to make sure his friend still ‘liked him’? If I did not miss something, he might have been appalled at his own attempt to call his friend to account and was trying to backpedal?

    (Sure wouldn’t mind going at a slower pace so I have more time to read and re-read.)

    • MG: I’m glad you appreciate the ironic use of “gentlemen” and I agree with you on the correlation with modern behavior. As for the reading pace, I’m still playing with it — I don’t want to go to slow so that people get bored, but not so fast that people can’t keep up or feel rushed. I promise, though, that we’ll definitely slow down for the plays that, unlike Two Gentlemen perhaps, require a more leisurely in-depth reading.

  5. Mahood says:

    The song in Act IV Scene 2 ‘Who is Silvia?…’ later inspired Franz Schubert to compose the lied, (a German art song for solo voice and piano) ‘An Sylvia’ (D. 891).

    Two beautiful versions can be heard on youtube – one in German:

    …and one in English: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o8vHk038_VY

    Song Text:

    Was ist Silvia, saget an,
    Daß sie die weite Flur preist?
    Schön und zart seh ich sie nahn,
    Auf Himmelsgunst und Spur weist,
    Daß ihr alles untertan.

    Ist sie schön und gut dazu?
    Reiz labt wie milde Kindheit;
    Ihrem Aug’ eilt Amor zu,
    Dort heilt er seine Blindheit
    Und verweilt in süßer Ruh.

    Darum Silvia, tön, o Sang,
    Der holden Silvia Ehren;
    Jeden Reiz besiegt sie lang,
    Den Erde kann gewähren:
    Kränze ihr und Saitenklang!

    Who is Silvia? What is she,
    That all our swains commend her?
    Holy, fair, and wise is she;
    The heaven such grace did lend her,
    That she might admirèd be.

    Is she kind as she is fair?
    For beauty lives with kindness.
    Love doth to her eyes repair,
    To help him of his blindness,
    And, being helped, inhabits there.

    Then to Silvia let us sing,
    That Silvia is excelling;
    She excels each mortal thing
    Upon the dull earth dwelling:
    To her let us garlands bring.

  6. Chris says:

    When you called our attention to these passages, Act V, iv, 77-83, and I re-read them, my first thought was that they were hinting at what Harold Bloom called Valentine’s “repressed bisexuality!”
    “All that was mine in Silvia, I give thee.” Well, alrighty. No wonder Julia fainted.

  7. leaf says:

    Thanks for the comments. Reading it as Shakespeare’s denunciation and send up of the foolishness for what passed as “gentlemanly” behavior helps me to make sense of the play.

    I would like to see Seinfeld deliver the last two lines of that speech (or perhaps the whole speech) of Valentine’s, followed by a great big “Not!” But as noted, they are evidently and amazingly not meant to be ironic (by Valentine at least).

    A query, are we meant to see in Launce and Crab a mini-portrayal of the gospel with Launce as Christ and Crab as unworthy humanity? The incredible steadfast love of Launce for that cur that results in his taking on the “sins” of Crab and receiving their punishment put me in mind of the love of God for us presented in the Bible. This would round out the types of love that make up one of the themes of the play. If so, I’m not sure how Shakespeare views it.
    I googled Eglamour since the name so obviously had to do with “love”. Still not sure of the derivation; one source said “lost love”. But I found a 14th century romance featuring a Sir Eglamour in which he was the valiant knight and so wondered if Shakespeare was spoofing this type of romance as well.

    And what is it with the forest? I’m interested to see how it is developed in the rest of the plays.

    • Leaf: Yes on the Seinfeld idea! I’m not sure we’re meant to see Launce and Crab as a mini-portrayal of the Gospel but as an exaggerated look at a romantic love — in this case between Launce and Crab. And as for the forest…that seems to be a major “theme” for want of a better word throughout literature — look at Grimm Fairy Tales as one example — youth (or the inexperienced) go into the woods to confront their fears or to escape (evil stepmothers for one example), and while there “grow-up.” Listen to Sondheim’s “Into The Woods” for a good take on the whole idea.

  8. leaf says:

    Ok, I’m just really seeing this play as a burlesque as you indicated. Wouldn’t it be great to see what Monty Python would do with it? It does seem to have the frantic pace of an extended SNL sketch. Since we don’t know for sure when it was written, I guess we can’t know what was playing before it, but now I can’t help but wonder if it was written as a send-up of some earnest plodding romance that was on the stage before. I can see Shakespeare dashing this off in response like the young Mozart in Amadeus taking Salieri’s composition and riffing on it so brilliantly and easily. I don’t suppose there was a Pauline Kael of the period that would have written in the “Times” of that time about the plays, was there?

    • As much as I like the idea of a Tudor/Jacobite equivalent of Pauline Kael, I don’t think there was such a creature — I doubt that ‘dramas’ were taken seriously enough (and nobody at the time would have thought that they’d “survive” — which is one of the reasons why the Folio is such an extraordinary event — — writers like Samuel Johnson and William Hazlitt were discussing them more than a century after Shakespeare’s death.

  9. GGG says:

    I just finished the play and then read all the posts again. I have a slightly different take on Silvia, and thus on the ending. Pure speculation, as it all is!

    First, I looked up Proteus, which according to Wikipedia is the name of one of the first sons of Poseidon. In mythology he has a constantly changing appearance, and will only give a true answer if he is literally held onto through all his changes–in other words, a wily creature who is hard to pin down and always coming up with a new “self.” Sounds like our Proteus.

    When I read the comments about Proteus = knave and Valentine = lubber (or oaf), the actions at the end made more sense to me. If you think of actually seeing this play, with Proteus played by a mesmerizing actor who both fascinates and repels (and amuses) the audience, and Valentine played as a sweet, lovable dope, then Proteus’ sudden switcheroo from “forcing” Silvia to begging forgiveness when he is caught redhanded must have been funny to the audience (who expect Valentine to be taken in again by Proteus.) And then to have Valentine follow up by saying, “Oh, I do forgive you–you can have Silvia, too!” would be both shocking–and funny.

    I know Shakespeare likes pairing characters. I see the pairing of smart master (Proteus) with not-so-smart servant Launce, and vice versa with not-so-smart Valentine and smart Speed. I also see dumb/smart with the lovers: Valentine (the lubber) and Silvia (smart) and Proteus (very smart) and Julia (she STILL wants Proteus?)

    And now to Silvia…she professes her undying love for Valentine (who couldn’t figure out he was writing a love letter to himself); spurns Proteus in no uncertain terms; and then she agrees to send him her picture so that he can worship it! (Oh, even though she says “it should be Julia..,” why send her picture?) I know she goes to the forest to search for Valentine–perhaps wanting to be “found” by Proteus? This interpretation also gives a different meaning to the “force” scene–maybe more rhetorical than truly menacing, which wouldn’t fit the play at all. Even the outlaws, who should be menacing, are instead silly enough to elect Valentine their leader.

    So I see the exit: Valentine with Silvia and Proteus with Julia, and with Proteus and Silvia exchanging significant glances–and maybe a kiss blown behind Valentine’s and Julia’s backs?

    • GGG — I think you’ve nailed it pretty well…but I’m not seeing “significant glances” between Proteus and Silvia. It seems to me that both women are remarkably steadfast in their respective loves, and Silvia had already made her feelings towards Proteus quite clear, calling him to his face this “subtle, perjured, false, disloyal man.” Why sent the portrait? She knew she was already going to be on her way to meet Valentine; and her reason for sending it “I am very loath to be your idol, sir,/But, since your falsehood shall become you well,/To worship shadows and adore false shapes,/Send to me in the morning, and I’ll send it.” makes clear, I think, her contempt for him.

      • GGG says:

        Yes, your point is well-taken. I read the foreword in the Pelican again, and it talked about the importance of male friendships trumping all others. In other words, “sure, I forgive you, and you can have the woman we were fighting over, too,” would be in line with Elizabethan male bonding. Two Gentlemen of Verona must have been one of Shakespeare’s early hits, though, and audiences of the time might not have reacted so strongly to lines that bother us so today. It is fun to indulge in some wild speculation, sometimes!

  10. Joe Simon says:

    “In view of Launce’s homely wit and profound humor one wonders whether all the travel and adventure, the experiences of camp and court, the university training, the music and sonnet-writing that were demanded of the cultured young gentleman of the time were worth the trouble.”

    I was struck by this quote. It is more than just a thread through Shakespeare’s works; it is his own life. He didn’t have the travel, the university training, etc. He did ok without that.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s