Saturday, January 8, 2011


Valentine.  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!

Proteus. 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.

Valentine. 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.


Ah, the ending of The Two Gentlemen of Verona. This is the moment we've been waiting for! Valentine will  confront that snake Proteus and give him what he deserves! We've watched Proteus' treacherous dealings throughout the play with increased disgust, and our outrage has just reached its highest point with Proteus threat to Silvia: "I'll woo you like a soldier, at arms' end/ And love you 'gainst the nature of love,—force ye" (2208-2209). At this point, we'd really like to see Proteus exposed before the Duke, banished, cast into outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. If even Julia could spit on him on his way out (Valentine could find a nice outlaw for her to marry), that would be the cherry on top of his hoped-for downfall.

But that isn't what happens. Valentine, in righteous indignation, taxes Proteus with his perfidy, and Proteus crumbles. Oh, he's so sorry! And then Valentine forgives him.

Valentine then states that he gives up his claim to Silvia's love in favor of Proteus. WHAT? OK, you guys can be friends again, if that's what you really want, but Proteus is the bad guy here. Valentine's definitely going a little above and beyond the call, plus he's disregarding Silvia's previously voiced preferences (notice that she is silent from this point until the end of the play!). Adding to the audience or reader's feelings of confusion and betrayal, this final scene wraps up the play at lightning speed - one moment Valentine is, for the first time, recognizing that Proteus is his enemy, and literally 15 seconds later they are buddies again!

This ending - and its interpretation - has the power to make or break anyone's enjoyment or opinion of this work. I know that the first (and for years, only) time I saw the play, I felt that the ending was creepy and thus, seeing the show was a waste of time. I had no interest in reading or seeing the play again. That was eight and a half years ago and I've steadfastly refused to intersect with the play again until this week. (Side note - see the power of a production? With great power comes great responsibility!)

However, now I feel differently about the ending, in large part because as I read the play, I saw the story as a parallel to Chaucer's "The Knights Tale" from The Canterbury Tales.

                           (Picture from "The Luminarium" - awesome website!)

I'm not going to give the story away completely, but it involves two best friends who both fall in love with the same woman. Neither will give way or accept that the other could possibly prevail or have the better claim, and the end result of this attitude is horribly, terribly sad. Looking at The Two Gentlemen in this context of rivalry leading to violence, the forgiveness that Valentine extends in order to reconcile becomes much more poignant, almost a miracle. It's also interesting to note that while "The Knight's Tale" takes place within a pagan, pre-Christian context, there's are hints in The Two Gentlemen of both pagan and Christian values and identification in the names of the two main characters. As I noted earlier in the week, the very name Proteus harks back to a pagan world of Greek mythology, but Valentine is not only associated with the idea of Love, but is also the name of a Christian saint and martyr.  Looking at the story in this context, we can read Valentine as perhaps taking on some of the characteristics of a Christ figure - he gives up his own rights in favor of reconciling himself to someone totally unworthy. This parallel is also referred to by Valentine, who speaks of the mercy of God: "By penitence the Eternal's wrath's appeased."

Thus we see - played out very quickly before our eyes - the miracle in the forest. Out in nature, away from the court, Proteus becomes even more bold and savage. For the first time Valentine is able to see Proteus' true, depraved nature clearly - and he loves and forgives him anyway. Can we, as the audience, accept the gift of mercy offered by Valentine?


  1. When I read the ending, I assumed he was talking about lands and gold, not offering the actual person (all the references to Sylvia as an "Empress" influenced me, I think). Am I totally off on this?

    I agree that it's harder to explain Julia's reaction that way, though...

  2. Interesting take on the ending. Hmmm. Maybe Valentine can forgive Proteus but can we forgive either of them? They're both jerks. Even more relevant, can Julia and Silvia forgive them. I don't see why they should!
    I've written about Julia and Silvia on my blog Shakespeare Calling. I'd be interested in comments!