Two Gentlemen of Verona By William Shakespeare Summary and Analysis Act IV: Scenes 1-2

Summary

Valentine and Speed are accosted by an honorable band of thieves who are so impressed by the travelers' noble demeanor that they not only spare their lives, but offer Valentine the generalship of their gang.

By the bare scalp of Robin Hood's fat friar,
This fellow were a king for our wild faction! (36–37)

The same outlaw who utters these words explains that his own crime amounted to no more than "practicing [planning] to steal away a lady." They claim to be gentlemen, and they urge Valentine to "make virtue of necessity"; otherwise, they'll kill him. He accepts.

In Milan, Proteus and Sir Thurio approach Silvia's dwelling at night. Proteus uses the excuse of giving aid to Thurio as a means to approach Silvia, who consistently spurns him:

Yet, spaniel-like, the more she spurns my love,
The more it grows, and fawneth on her still. (14–15)

Disguised as a boy and fresh from Verona, Julia comes upon the scene of Proteus singing a love song outside of Silvia's window. Thurio departs after the song, and Julia watches as her lover declares his feelings for another woman. He even goes so far as to say that she, Julia, is dead.

Analysis

Even the thieves instinctively recognize the nobility of the banished Valentine, in the "romantic" tradition of true quality being evident to all:

. . . seeing you are beautified
With goodly shape, and by your own report
A linguist, and a man of such perfection
As we do in our quality much want (55–58)

Note the two earmarks of this high-minded gentleman: a) he rebukes Speed for being too anxious to save his skin by joining the brigands; b) he joins on condition that, under his governance, the band shall neither rob poor people, nor fall upon "silly [defenseless] women." In a later play, Henry IV, Part 1, Shakespeare was to take this whole tradition of "noble brigandry" and turn it on its head in the persons of fat Jack Falstaff and his sleazy crew. In The Two Gentlemen of Verona, the thieves are purely and simply a part of the romantic staple of the Elizabethans' favorite reading. A modern director would be hard put not to play the scene as parody.

Probably one of the most poignant scenes in the play is the one depicting the exhausted, lovelorn Julia, dressed as a page, as she catches the first glimpse of Proteus. In order to preserve her disguise, she cannot reveal the hurt she must be experiencing as she listens to Proteus sing a love song to Silvia.

Host: How now! Are you sadder than you were
before?
How do you, man? The music likes you not.
Julia: You mistake; the musician likes me not.
Host: Why, my pretty youth?
Julia: He plays false, father.
Host: How? Out of tune on the strings?
Julia: Not so; but yet so false that he grieves my
very heartstrings. (55–61)

Towards the end of the scene, Silvia seems to be faltering slightly, as she consents to give Proteus a picture of herself. One wonders if this same device were part of the process whereby he had won Julia's heart. After calling Proteus a "subtle, perjured, false, disloyal man," she consents to give the picture, rationalizing thus:

I am very loath to be your idol, sir;
But since your falsehood shall become you well
To worship shadows and adore false shapes,
Send to me in the morning, and I'll send it. (128–31)

Julia surely notices the apparent minor capitulation, as she remarks,

. . . it hath been the longest night
That e'er I watched, and the most heaviest. (140–41)

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At the end of the play, who does Julia meet and characterize as “A virtuous gentlewoman, mild and beautiful!”



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