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Posted October 16, 2001
The Archetype of Later Romantic Comedies
Although few would claim that Two Gentlemen of Verona is one of Shakespeare¿s greatest plays, it is well worth reading in order to serve as a reference for the best of his romantic comedies. In essence, Two Gentlemen of Verona gives you a measuring stick to see the brilliance in the best works. The play has the first of Shakespeare¿s many brave, resourceful and cross-dressing heroines, Julia. Shakespeare always used his fools and clowns well to make serious statements about life and love, and to expose the folly of the nobles. Two Gentlemen of Verona has two very fine comic scenes featuring Launce. In one, he lists the qualities of a milk maid he has fallen in love with and helps us to see that love is blind and relative. In another, he describes the difficulties he has delivering a pet dog to Silvia on his master, Proteus¿, behalf in a way that will keep you merry on many a cold winter¿s evening. The story also has one of the fastest plot resolutions you will ever find in a play. Blink, and the play is over. This nifty sleight of hand is Shakespeare¿s way of showing that when you get noble emotions and character flowing together, things go smoothly and naturally. The overall theme of the play develops around the relative conflicts that lust, love, friendship, and forgiveness can create and overcome. Proteus is a man who seems literally crazed by his attraction to Silvia so that he loses all of his finer qualities. Yet even he can be redeemed, after almost doing a most foul act. The play is very optimistic in that way. I particularly enjoy the plot device of having Proteus and Julia (pretending to be a page) playing in the roles of false suitors for others to serve their own interests. Fans of Othello will enjoy these foreshadowings of Iago. The words themselves can be a bit bare at times, requiring good direction and acting to bring out the full conflict and story. For that reason, I strongly urge you to see the play performed first. If that is not possible, do listen to an audio recording as you read along. That will help round out the full atmosphere that Shakespeare was developing here. After you finish Two Gentlemen of Verona, think about where you would honor friendship above love, where equal to love, and where below love. Is friendship less important than love? Or is friendship merely less intense? Can you experience both with the same person? Enjoy close ties of mutual commitment . . . with all those you feel close to! Donald Mitchell, co-author of The 2,000 Percent Solution and The Irresistible Growth Enterprise
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