Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 7, No. 0315. Wednesday, 24 April 1996.
Date: Tuesday, 23 Apr 1996 15:58:40 -0400
Subject: A Different Ending for _Two Gentlemen of Verona_
A few weeks ago my husband and I attended a performance here in Washington by a
local company in Arlington Virginia of _Two Gentlemen of Verona_ whose ending I
have been mulling on ever since. At the close of the play we were "treated" to
a mime scene in which two of the minor actors at the gestured behest of the
Duke kill Proteus for his crimes. We see them violently kick and otherwise
beat him up, then they throw him carelessly in a pool to drown. The girl who
played Julia comes in, appears to grieve, but then walks sadly away as if
so-to-speak the punishment was after all deserved and therefore inevitable.
I was startled. It was not so much the grimness and superfluity of the
violence--which the performance had used throughout, including a near-rape by
Proteus of Sylvia. Nor was it the harshness of the "justice" imposedThe
outfits of all the people were caricatures of various sexual stereotypes writ
large. Sylvia was a tramp who looked like something the cat had rejected long
ago in the 1950's; Thurio was a cowboy in rhinestones, with private parts
outlined, and so it went. Nor in this atmosphere could the total lack of
sympathy extended towards Proteus's fault (as all remember he's changeable,
otherwise he'd have no fault as he opines) be surprizing.
No what struck me was that the friendship between Valentine and Proteus was
utterly de-emphasized. These scenes were hurried through and given no emphasis.
All the emphasis was on Proteus's betrayal of Julia, but then the sexual
appeal of Julia was denied. There was no sense of playfulness at all in her
cross-dressing, nothing sexy so-to-speak. Julia was throughout dressed very
severely, and when she donned a man's outfit, she looked positively funereal,
very thin, no sign of anything sensual about her. She was in mourning.
(Actually there was no much gaiety anywhere--the Duke was a South American
dictator; we were in some awful vacationer's hotel throughout much of the
I wondered if the Elizabethan audience would have accepted Proteus's betrayal
and forgiven him not simply because they were perhaps less puritanical than we
have become today, and not simply because this performance appeared to keep in
mind the politically correct stance towards what is rape, but because they
didn't take the relationship between a man and woman as seriously as they did a
man and man. In order to achieve the tone and perspective they wanted this
group of actors had to de-emphasize Valentine and Proteus; Valentine was seen
as attached to Sylvia. The betrayal of Valentine was passed over. Proteus
became a cynosure of man's brutality to woman, and we were to hate him
thoroughly. I was of course also astonished at the gratification we were
expected to feel at this capital punishment in the hands of brutal vigilantes.
Not to worry; the play's already finished, and unless the company revives the
production next year it won't be done again. But it got rave reviews, and is I
think sufficiently indicative of certain trends in our time and differences
between it and the Elizabethan to warrant a description on this list.