Monday, January 3, 2011

The Two Gentlemen of Verona

The current that with gentle murmur glides,
Thou know'st, being stopp'd, impatiently doth rage;
But when his fair course is not hindered,
He makes sweet music with th'enamell'd stones,
Giving a gentle kiss to every sedge
He overtaketh in his pilgrimage;
And so by many winding nooks he strays,
With willing sport, to the wide ocean.
Then let me go, and hinder not my course:
I'll be as patient as a gentle stream,
And make a pastime of each weary step,
Tell the last step have brought me to my love;
And there I'll rest, as, after much turmoil,
A blessed soul doth in Elysium.


The Two Gentlemen of Verona! If you'd like to read along, text is here!

The Two Gentlemen of Verona is a play that I've never felt very interested in. Perhaps this is due to seeing a rather unfortunate production done by high-schoolers when I was young; the costumes from that show chiefly stick in my memory, as I believe both male leads wore bright orange pants and Julia (who whined throughout) donned a backwards baseball cap as a "disguise". Plus I thought the ending was rather creepy....However, as Benedick of Much Ado About Nothing says,

"doth not the appetite alter? a man loves the meat
in his youth that he cannot endure in his age."

Though in my case it's rather the reverse - I'm enjoying this play.

I chose the opening quote, spoken by Julia, as Shakespeare's saying of the day as it seems to incapsulate much of what is going on with all four of the young lovers throughout the first three acts. While the words sound - and are! - absolutely beautiful, this young woman is actually expressing her desire to get her own way in all things, including abandoning her home and estate to catch a glimpse of her love.

 Although this can be viewed as noble, there's a hint of menace in her threat that "stopp'd" the stream "impatiently doth rage"; this possibility of danger is fully fleshed out through the actions of Julia's lover Proteus, whose very name speaks of changability and inconstancy. Proteus, like the stream whose "course is not hindered," goes with the flow and follows his feelings; when his emotions lead him into a passion for his friend Valentine's betrothed, he is absolutely dangerous in his willingness to remove all obstacles that would "hinder" him from getting what he wants, throwing Valentine under the bus by betraying him to the Duke of Milan in a way that literally threatens his life.

Proteus, like Julia, wants his own way, and will, like the stream, seem gentle when left to run without any restraints on him such as duty, friendship, or his promises. He himself excuses his behavior thus: "I to myself am dearer than a friend" (2.6.953). A dangerous attitude indeed; beware the stream that "impatiently doth rage."

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