Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Reader's Diary #899- William Shakespeare: The Two Gentlemen of Verona

The last Shakespeare play I reviewed was The Merchant of Venice. A couple of points I made at the time bear mentioning again.

First, I accused the modern readers who didn't see the antisemitism in the play of wanting to whitewash history. I feel that I'm risking doing the same thing with The Merchant of Venice. Certainly to read it on a surface level, it appears to be a very misogynistic play. When one of the two titular gentlemen makes unreciprocated advances towards his friend's (the other gentleman's) love interest, he threatens to take her by force if necessary. When gentleman number two (Valentine) discovers that gentleman number one (Proteus) has the hots for his girl (Sylvia), Valentine not only easily forgives Proteus, but basically offers to hand Sylvia over to him, like a piece of property.

But I want to suggest that Shakespeare was doing all of this in ironic contrast to his title. Proteus and Valentine are neither gentle, nor men. (That sounds like a topic Linda Richman would throw out to talk amongst yourself.) Without this interpretation, the characters are wholly unlikeable; they're fickle, melodramatic, and as stated above, misogynistic. Don't get me wrong, with the ironic interpretation, they're still those things, but at least the ironic reading allows us to feel better about Shakespeare and the fact that these two creeps are the stars of the show.

A second comment I made for The Merchant of Venice was that I was growing tired of Shakespeare's drag characters, saying it was a device he overdid and was a bit ridiculous that no one ever recognized the true identity. C.B.James made a good argument that Shakespeare's audiences would have had an easier time with the idea, seeing as they were already suspending their belief with the fact that all the actors at the time would have been male. The female characters would already be males in drag. But this is made more complex when, as in The Two Gentlemen of Verona, a female character goes in drag as a man: it's a male playing a female playing a male.

Girls who are boys
Who like boys to be girls
Who do boys like they´re girls
Who do girls like they´re boys
Always should be someone you really love

For some reason I found the Two Gentlemen of Verona to be one of Shakespeare's easier reads, and I always enjoy the ones I understand more (d'uh), but I did find it hard to like the characters. It's not necessary that I do, but I was looking forward to not reading about them again.

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