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05 February 2006

The Two Gentlemen of Verona (2003)

A Fully Dramatized Reading of William Shakespeare's The Two Gentlemen of Verona (1598)

Vol. VIII of The Complete Ark- angel Shakespeare by Audio Partners; Michael Maloney (Proteus), Damian Lewis (Valen- tine), Lucy Robinson (Julia), and Saskia Wickham (Silvia)


From Wikipedia: "The two gentlemen of the title are Valentine and Proteus. Valentine leaves Verona to visit Padua (or possibly Milan; the context is often unclear), where he soon finds his lustful affections engaged by Silvia, an aristocratic lady who is not at all averse to his favors. Proteus later visits Valentine, leaving his fiance, Julia, in Verona. There, Proteus too falls for Silvia. The classical triangle is sent spinning when Proteus' lady love puts on man's attire to pay an unexpected visit. The play concludes in a tense confrontation in a forest, where Proteus attempts to rape Silvia. Valentine saves her, but then 'gives' her to Proteus in the name of friendship. Proteus refuses and returns to Julia, thus producing a happy ending, at least in name."


Blame Damian Lewis. I was minding my own business, looking through the library's online catalog to find out if his 2004 film Keane was out of DVD yet (it's not), when I stumbled on another of his available works: a dramatic reading of The Two Gentlemen of Verona. Hmmm. Sounds interesting. I have always meant to read the plays of Shakespeare, and I even considered an auto-didactic foray into Shakespeare After All. However, despite my good intention to eventually become fluent in Spanish, study acrylic painting, and learn to play the piano, even I know that - realistically - I will never read such a monster on my own. But listening to Damian Lewis read Shakespeare to me? Yes, please, Major Winters.

My local branch happened to have The Two Gentlemen of Verona on CD, and I have an ancient collection of Shakespeare's plays, one of the only volumes of great literature I inherited from my parents. They once had a set of various authors' collected works, but I managed only to save Poe and Shakespeare from a tremendous basement flood about decade ago. The volume is so dated that it does not include a previously contested play, The Two Noble Kinsmen. But at least I have an unabridged read- along guide.

Upon further investigation, I found that all 38 of Shakespeare's plays were given this dramatic treatment in 2003 through a company called Audio Partners. And better yet, every volume is contained within various library branches here in town. Wonderful! Other cast members in the series include Joseph Fiennes, Jennifer Ehle, Imogen Stubbs, Niamh Cusack, Jonathan Firth, Julian Glover, Colin Salmon, plus dozens of other very British actors, all of whom have been associated with the Royal Shakespeare Company. Once I uploaded The Two Gentlemen of Verona into my shuffle, I was on my way - a first step into the realm of Shakespeare, which should take me the better part of a year to complete. After this introduction, I will proceed in roughly chronological order, so as to keep from leaving the heavy histories for the last:

First Part of King Henry VI; Second Part of King Henry VI; Third Part of King Henry VI; The Life and Death of King Richard III; The Comedy of Errors; Titus Andronicus; The Taming of the Shrew; (The Two Gentlemen of Verona); Love's Labour's Lost; Romeo & Juliet; The Life and Death of Richard II; A Midsummer Night's Dream; King John; The Merchant of Venice; First Part of Henry IV; Second Part of Henry IV; King Henry V; Julius Caesar; Much Ado About Nothing; As You Like It; Merry Wives of Windsor; Hamlet, Prince of Denmark; Twelfth Night, or, What You Will; Troilus and Cressida; All's Well That Ends Well; Measure for Measure; Othello, the Moor of Venice; King Lear; Macbeth; Antony and Cleopatra; Coriolanus; Timon of Athens; Pericles, Prince of Tyre; Cymbeline; The Winter's Tale; The Tempest; King Henry VIII; and The Two Noble Kinsmen

Thanks, Damian... I think!


What a ridiculous romp! There is a reason why Silvia has no line after Valentine rescues her from a near-rape by Proteus: Valentine forgives his friend because of Proteus's professed guilt and shame, and Silvia should be spitting mad that her fiancé would so easily pardon her attacker.

Julia, the silly, mooning twit, should obviously reject her philandering, two-faced, almost-rapist betrothed, but she has a history of being easily swayed by the opinions of others. Her acceptance of Proteus is inevitable because she has no self-respect. But Silvia exhibited fire and backbone throughout her ordeal, staying true to Valentine, rejecting her father's wishes, and calling Proteus the nasty names his behavior warranted. Valentine had no place in accepting Proteus's apology. Maybe Shakespeare knew this and kept a rightfully angered Silvia from speaking her peace, especially when Valentine insisted the two rapturous couples share a wedding date, thus assuring that the other characters would have the "happy ending" promised by a comedy.

Other than this significant offense to my feminist sensibilities, the comic passages made me laugh aloud. Launce (John Woodvine) and Speed (Nicholas Murchie) were especially amusing, particularly Speed's defense against Proteus's charge that he was a sheep and Launce's search for the perfect milkmaid, although the occasional disparaging comment against Jews served to throw me out of the moment and back into the 21st Century. Of course, the word play and puns spun as fast as a tilt-a-whirl, making my head buzz as I accessed a long-dormant part of my literary brain - Shakespeare humor.

Valentine was a great romantic character, and this had only a little to do with the fact he was played by Damian Lewis. As with the best of romantic heroes, Valentine's love for his woman never faltered (if you ignore the silly-ass ending). His declarations of love were especially poetic, and the comic moments Speed had at the expense of his affections were wonderful. Proteus, however, was a nasty, unlikable piece of work, even when he wasn't betraying his best friend and jilting his intended. I would have preferred a proper "happy ending" with every character rejecting his sorry self in favor of a fresh start, away from a man who so obviously disrespected love, honor, and friendship.


Proteus: "In love, who respects friends?"
Silvia: "All men but Proteus."

Silvia (to Proteus): "Return, return, and make thy love amends. For me, - by this pale queen of the night I swear I am so far from granting thy request that I despise thee for thy wrongful suit, and by and by intend to chide myself even for this time I spend in talking to thee."

Valentine: "Except I be by Silvia in the night, there is no music in the nightingale; unless I look on Silvia in the day, there is no day for me to look upon: she is my essence; and I leave to be, if I be not by her fair influence foster'd, illumined, cherish'd, kept alive."

Speed: "This proves me still a sheep."

Vocab & References

beadsmen, Leander & the Hellespont, cavil, canker (relating to plants), verdure, testerned, descant, peremptory, puling, Hallowmas, jerkin, doublet, liveries, enfranchised (referring to freedom), belike, fealty, lubber, sedge, Elysium, farthingale, froward, importune, Phaëton/Merops' son, dolour, expostulate, imprimis, jade (referring to a horse), habiliments, compass ("that I may 'compass' your will"), sepulchre, obdurate, hallidom, trencher, capon, augury, Ariadne & Theseus, and periwig.

Blogger Mircalla said...

That's brilliant! I was thinking of getting an audio book myself.

You know--one of my strangest habits is to keep asking Lofty to tell me stories. This would be his solution!

I watched *Two Gentlemen of Verona* at the open air theatre in Regent's Park. Great location, but bad acustic. Plus, I went there without knowing the story (one of the few works I haven't studied at uni), and Shakespeare is for me still hard without reading it beforehand. Result: very little was left from this experience, except perhaps some funny lines.

I could not even remember that one of the characters had my same name. What a waste!!

"Valentine: 'Except I be by Silvia in the night, there is no music in the nightingale; unless I look on Silvia in the day, there is no day for me to look upon: she is my essence; and I leave to be, if I be not by her fair influence foster'd, illumined, cherish'd, kept alive.'"

I wish someone said this to me.I love Shakespeare's love declarations. His love sonnets are the best because they sound so
unconventionally romantic and genuine.

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