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Written by Timothy Sexton
Bromance v. Romance
The titular gents from Verona, Valentine and Proteus, represent one of literature’s first bona fide bromances operating with a bromantic comedy. Valentine and Proteus love one another very deeply and if there was any doubt as to whether their bromantic behavior is merely a masquerade of latent homosexual desire, one need only consider the plot of the play rests upon the two besties falling head over heels for the same girl to the point of betrayal to wrest her affections away from the other. Much ado about disguises and true love for the right girl for each gentleman provide the requisite obstructions to the happy ending, but that ending is really about Valentine and Proteus winding up back together in the full bloom of friendship, thus cementing the suggestion that when it comes to bromance versus romance in Shakespeare’s world, the platonic often equals or surpasses the romantic.
Love is a Masquerade
How many times does Shakespeare resort to the device of a woman disguising herself as a male in the pursuit of love in his comedies? Perhaps this obsession has less to do with dramatic purposes and more to do with the fact that during his time all the female parts were played by male actors. Male actors who maybe just kept begging him for the opportunity to strut the stage in all their full masculine glory for a change. Or, maybe all those other females donning pants and cutting short their hair or otherwise masquerading as a man—like Julia who spends much of this play as the page Sebastian—is Shakespeare’s go-to metaphor for a repeating theme that the very idea of “true love” is suspect since it always derives in one or another from the disguises we all put in its pursuit.
The Purifying Power of the Woods
Much of the action in The Two Gentlemen of Verona takes place within a forest near Mantua. The raw, savagely authentic quality of the forest as a natural location for the kind of magic that can transformed danger into knowledge is directly contrasted with the ignorance at work in the larger urban centers. Both Silvia and Valentine fall victim to kidnapping by outlaws lying in wait in the darkness of the forest, but both come out of the experience in better psychic shape than they were when they went into the woods.
In the downtown abbey that is contemporary portrayals of the relationship between the master class and the serving class, it is hardly unusual for those of the latter to be portrayed as possession boatloads more common sense and wisdom than those they serve. When Shakespeare was busy composing Two Gentlemen of Verona, such astuteness among the lower classes was barely recognized as possible. The servants to the lords and ladies at the center of the plot are all equipped with much greater insight into the foibles of humanity and the slippery playing field of the game of love than their supposedly superior and more educated masters, thus endowing the play with a thematic dimension of an awareness of class division centuries before Marx came along.
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