Places: The Two Gentlemen of Verona

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1623

First produced: c. 1594-1595

Type of work: Drama

Type of plot: Comedy

Time of work: Sixteenth century

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Verona

*Verona. Two Gentlemen of Verona, TheCity in northern Italy in which William Shakespeare also set Romeo and Juliet (1595-1596). The Verona of The Two Gentlemen of Verona is a highly fictionalized place, a locale of relative innocence. There, Valentine and Proteus enjoy a firm and uncomplicated friendship until Proteus is sent by his father to Milan.

Tensions among the characters in Verona are mild and ordinary, features of fairly uneventful domestic life: Valentine disagrees with Proteus about the relative merits of love and travel; Julia at first does not to know what to make of Proteus’s offers of affection; Antonio, Proteus’s father, disapproves of his son’s devotion to love; and Proteus objects to his father’s command that he join Valentine in Milan. None of these conflicts is particularly significant. They all resemble the conflict between the buffoon Launce and his dog Crab, who refuses to weep upon his master’s departure from home. Contrasted to Milan and the forest, Verona is a place of domestic tranquillity.

*Milan

*Milan. Major northern Italian city, which, like Verona, is highly fictionalized in the play. In Milan, the two young gentlemen of Verona finally encounter serious problems in their lives. Valentine falls in love with Silvia, but her father, the Duke, wishes her to marry a wealthy but unpleasant character named Thurio.

When Proteus arrives in Milan, his life is also changed, for once he meets Silvia he abandons not only his professed love for Julia but also his lifelong friendship with Valentine. After a Machiavellian maneuver through which he secures the banishment of Valentine from Milan, Proteus manipulates both the duke and Thurio into giving him access to Silvia, who, however, remains impervious to his solicitations and deaf to his false claims that both Julia and Valentine have died.

It is as though the change of location from Verona to Milan has brought about alterations in the characters of both Valentine, who has become a lover, and Proteus, who has become an unscrupulous and deceitful scoundrel. The two main female characters, Julia and Silvia, are also forced to respond to changes in their lovers’ status by resorting to drastic measures, including leaving their home cities.

Forest

Forest. Just as Verona is an abode of simplicity and inexperience and Milan is a locale in which Valentine and Proteus encounter challenges, the forest turns out to be the realm in which reconciliation becomes possible. Although this reconciliation eventually emerges from chaotic confusion, it proves surprisingly comprehensive, as the duke even pardons outlaws who have been terrorizing the area. Valentine forgives Proteus for his treachery although he is aware that his old friend was on the verge, a few minutes earlier, of raping Silvia. Julia, who in her disguise has witnessed Proteus’s unconscionable behavior, also forgives him as he suddenly experiences a revival of his love for her.

Thus the natural environment of the forest contrasts favorably with the world of the city, in which human schemes so often work against human happiness. The duke’s greedy disregard for his daughter’s love for Valentine, Proteus’s selfishness with respect to Valentine, Silvia, and Julia, and Thurio’s self-centered conviction that he is entitled to marry Silvia all come to naught in the forest, where the true virtue of Valentine, Silvia, and Julia emerges and prevails.

BibliographyLeech, Clifford. Introduction to The Two Gentlemen of Verona, by William Shakespeare. London: Methuen, 1969. Concludes that the play is primarily concerned with mocking the idealistic pretensions of Renaissance codes of romantic love and friendship.Lindenbaum, Peter. “Education in The Two Gentlemen of Verona.” Studies in English Literature 15, no. 2 (Spring, 1975): 229-244. Concludes that the play is about the importance of penitence for past sins. The education of the “perfect man” envisioned at the beginning of the play takes the protagonists to the court and then to the green forest, where they will learn that they are imperfect because they are human.Perry, Thomas A. “Proteus, Wry-Transformed Traveller.” Shakespeare Quarterly 5, no. 1 (January, 1954): 33-40. Shows that to understand Proteus, one must first see him as a young Elizabethan Italiante in a passing phase; at the end of the play he is a chastened and regenerate youth.Sargent, Ralph M. “Sir Thomas Elyot and the Integrity of The Two Gentlemen of Verona.” PMLA 65, no. 2 (December, 1950): 1166-1180. Discusses the ways in which Proteus learns that he has violated the codes of masculine friendship and romantic love and how he is regenerated and reclaimed at the end of the play.Stephenson, William E. “The Adolescent Dream-World of The Two Gentlemen of Verona.” Shakespeare Quarterly 17, no. 2 (Spring, 1966): 165-168. Focuses on the fact that Proteus and Valentine are two very young gentlemen, sixteenth century adolescents still under parental authority. Their wild swings of emotion, naïveté, tentative behavior, tame submission to elders, and dreams and hallucinations of love are signs that they are just past the first changes of puberty. In the latter part of the play they are half-grown, and even the final denouement is a dream-action.
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