Personality, identity, deliberate obfuscation of identity, unintentional obfuscation of identity, disguises, cross-dressing, sexual confusion ... ("THESE are a few of my FAVORITE Things ...!") ... also, all of these are major themes or elements2 in just about all of Shakespeare, including his sonnets (regardless of whether or not you buy into the whole Dark Lady plot that people try to impose on the sonnets to make them into some sort of coded narrative (Personally? I don't buy into that)). They all occur, with slightly less development, in TGoV. Shakespeare is kinda trying them out, to good, if limited, effect, I would argue. You'll see them better-developed in later plays, but this is a good early attempt3.
There are very few characters in TGoV — fewer than 20, I guess, all told — and the opening sentence of Anne Barton's Introduction to the play in the Riverside Edition goes thus:
"The Two Gentlemen of Verona has the unenviable distinction of being the least loved and least regarded of Shakespeare's plays."Yikes! She goes on to note that it is rarely performed, seems schematic (most of the dialogue includes no more than two or three characters) and, in the course of her essay, stops to note its glaring flaws, of which there are quite a few, and Sister, when these flaws glare, they fucking glare! Some of its flaws are not so horrible, and you probably wouldn't even notice them if someone didn't point them out. In Act I, scene ii, for example, Lucetta, Julia's "waiting-woman", mentions Julia's father; Barton gives a gloss to this in the footnotes:
"your father: After one other reference to her father ... Shakespeare seems to treat Julia as a wealthy orphan [...]", Barton then citing a line later in the play where Julia seems to be in control of her own estate, which, presumably would have been controlled by her father if he were alive. This is interesting in its own way, I guess but .... 4
The major flaws of Two Gentleman occur almost entirely in the final act, the final scene, of the play. Proteus5, who had been betrothed to Julia from very early on in the play, has by this time decided he loves Silvia and has managed to have Valentine, Proteus's own best bud and Silvia's leman, exiled so that he, Proteus, can try to win Silvia over. But Silvia thinks he's a total douche, not just for fucking over Valentine, but also for abandoning Julia.
In the final scene, Julia is present (disguised as a boy-servant to Proteus and obviously broken-hearted over P.'s pursuit of S.) as is Valentine, who is hidden and does not yet know that Proteus betrayed him. So ... in this setting, Proteus decides he's waited long enough for Silvia and tries to rape her; at which point, Valentine reveals himself and calls Proteus out for being the dick that he is; Proteus is all, Dude, I'm really sorry! And Valentine, who, remember, can't bear the thought of living without Silvia, says to Proteus, That's good enough for me! We're best buds again, and, furthermore, why don't you take my chick?
If you think I am kidding about how quickly all of this happens, well, first off, Fuck You, because I don't lie! And second, here's the actual relevant unedited episode itself:
PROTEUSThis all happens in like the space of what — 35 lines? This wouldn't have worked even if Shakespeare had named the Play Two Douche-Satchels of Verona, although that title would have been more appropriate. Eventually, of course, everyone ends up with who they are meant to be with: Julia's presence is revealed, Proteus is forgiven, Valentine is unbanished, Silvia is unraped, and weddings are planned!1! FAHHH-bulous!1! (It take another couple dozen lines to accomplish all of that.)
Nay, if the gentle spirit of moving words
Can no way change you to a milder form,
I'll woo you like a soldier, at arms' end,
And love you 'gainst the nature of love,--force ye.
I'll force thee yield to my desire.
VALENTINE [revealing himself]
Ruffian, let go that rude uncivil touch,
Thou friend of an ill fashion!
Thou common friend, that's without faith or love,
For such is a friend now; treacherous man!
Thou hast beguiled my hopes; nought but mine eye
Could have persuaded me: now I dare not say
I have one friend alive; thou wouldst disprove me.
Who should be trusted, when one's own right hand
Is perjured to the bosom? Proteus,
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!
My 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.
Then I am paid;
And once again I do receive thee honest.
Who by repentance is not satisfied
Is nor of heaven nor earth, for these are pleased.
By penitence the Eternal's wrath's appeased:
And, that my love may appear plain and free,
All that was mine in Silvia I give thee.
O me unhappy!
But the truly vitiating thing about this ending is not all of the quick changes in general; it is, rather, Valentine's totally unbelievable and unnecessary giving-away of Silvia to her would-be rapist, the right to do which he doesn't even possess (Silvia's dad is not only still alive he's the fucking Duke of Milan!). It boggles my mind that Shakespeare for some reason included that problematic item. Comedies tend to come to quick and not necessarily believable conclusions, so I didn't really have a problem with that in TGoV — even though it is particularly abrupt in this respect. But the whole Silvia give-away?
Kinda hard to forgive when judging the overall worth or quality of the play.
Next: Pericles. You asked for it, BrianFlash; so you got it. God alone know why you would want it ...
1 MINE'S BIGGER!1! In fact, I call it
2 I add the words "and elements" because, really, can cross-dressing be called a theme? It happens a lot in Shakespeare, but it's more a means of exploring the theme of identity, I guess, than a theme itself.
On the other hand, cross-dressing is a theme in the Life of Teh Tranny B*tch, who evidently has fallen off the face of the blogosphere.
3 Astute Readers of this blog — by which I mean those of you who are undaunted by 10,000-word posts that have zero to do with running or even anything interesting and are really just instances of my getting all hobby-horsical, as I am wont to do — will have already grokked that the themes mentioned above are the very same ones I wrote about when I did that series of posts on The Who that nobody read. And that is why I include, above, the video for the trippy, almost acid rock Who song "Disguises". It seems apropos. Also, now you may have a better idea as to why I consider The Who to be such great artists in their own right. They deal with many of the same themes that Shakespeare does, and do it well.
4 Let's put it this way: A while ago, I was excited to discover this web site called What Goes On that exhaustively catalogs what it calls "anomalies" in every released Beatles song. The fact that the site is named after one of my least-liked Beatles songs turned out to be an omen. Because unless you care that there are, e,g., "Offbeat clicks, left channel" at the 1:08-1:11 mark of "Baby You're a Rich Man", you're not gonna gain any insights from this site, largely because there are none to be had. The fact that Ringo's bass drum pedal can be heard squeaking on more songs than I care to list is about as interesting, to me, as the continuity errors that Trekkie retards endlessly offer up as Gotcha!s when they attend a Trek Convention, the point of doing which seems to be to assert, See, Gene Roddenberry? I'm smarter than you! No wonder you're dead and I'm not! But really, who the fuck cares?
Barton's footnote above is nowhere near that level of nerdish inconsequentiality, but the fact that Shakespeare is inconsistent with regard to a non-character who doesn't even appear in TGoV doesn't particularly affect the play itself.
But while I'm on the topic of the footnote glosses, I might as well point out that it can be pretty revealing (or, to put it more accurately, unrevealing) what the footnotes don't note. For example, in V, ii, the following exchange takes place:
THURIOProteus is, at this point, trying to win Silvia for himself, though Thurio doesn't know it (in fact, the latter thinks Proteus is helping him, Thurio, press his own suit). And it seems to me that there is an obvious dick-size double entendre going on in the talk about the size of Thurio's "leg" — Proteus, the undisclosed rival, implying Thurio's dick is too tiny — but Barton, in her footnote glosses, ignores it, telling us instead that "spurr'd" means "incited" and is an "obvious quibble on Thurio's reference to being booted" (which itself, in this context, could have a bawdy meaning, too; but Barton ignores that as well).
Sir Proteus, what says Silvia to my suit?
O, sir, I find her milder than she was;
And yet she takes exceptions at your person.
What, that my leg is too long?
No; that it is too little.
I'll wear a boot, to make it somewhat rounder.
[Aside] But love will not be spurr'd to what
Thanks for the "spurr'd" gloss, Anne. But how big is the dude's penis? Teh Lady Readers need to know!
5 Whose name, admittedly, is essentially synonymous with constant change (though it actually means "first" or primordial"), and so you're kinda warned right upfront what kinda dude he'll be; but even so, the series of changes that happen in the final act of TGoV? Way more than a mere stretch.