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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: August ::
Re: Two Gents, Catching Cold
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.1922  Wednesday, 1 August 2001

From:           David Wallace <
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Date:           Tuesday, 31 Jul 2001 14:07:22 -0700
Subject: 12.1913 Re: Two Gents, Catching Cold
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1913 Re: Two Gents, Catching Cold

Billy Houck reports this of the Two Gent's offered by the Central Coast
Shakespeare Festival:

> One further note: this is a modern dress production. At first I was
> stuck about what to do with the attempted rape (if that's what it really is)
> in the last scene.
> I'd be interested in hearing from anyone who has any other solutions to
> how to stage this rather bizarre ending.
> Here's what we wound up doing:
>
> PROTEUS   Nay, if the gentle spirit of moving words
>        Can no way change you to a milder form,
>        I'll woo you like a soldier, at arms' end,   HE GRABS HER ROUGHLY
>        And love you 'gainst the nature of love,--force ye.

I think it fair to say that a man declaring that he will "love...against
nature of love, --force ye" is definitely intending rape.

> SILVIA O heaven!
>
> PROTEUS   I'll force thee yield to my desire.
> HE KISSES HER HARD
> SHE SCRATCHES HIS FACE
> HE PULLS BACK IN PAIN
> SHE GRABS HIS HAIR AND SLAMS HIS FACE INTO A PLATFORM
> HE STAGGERS BACK, STUNNED
> SHE KICKS HIM SQUARELY IN THE CROTCH
> HE FALLS ON HIS BACK IN PAIN
> SHE JUMPS ON HIM, ONE HAND ON HIS THROAT, THE OTHER SQUEEZING HIS
> TESTICLES
> HE WRITES IN PAIN (the audience is always cheering by this point)

I seems clear that, in this production, Silvia is in no real danger.

> VALENTINE  (coming forward)  Ruffian, let go that rude uncivil touch,
>        Thou friend of an ill fashion!

Whom is Valentine addressing? Silvia or Proteus?

> PROTEUS Valentine!
>
> VALENTINE Thou common friend, that's without faith or love,
>        For such is a friend now; treacherous man!
> SYLVIA LETS GO OF PROTEUS' THROAT, DISCOVERS SHE HAS CHIPPED A NAIL,
> GRABS
> HIS THROAT AGAIN.

This bit of cheap business likely earned a cheap laugh but it makes
nonsense of the text.

>        Thou hast beguiled my hopes; nought but mine eye
>        Could have persuaded me: now I dare not say
>        I have one friend alive; thou wouldst disprove me.
>        Who should be trusted, when one's own right hand
>        Is perjured to the bosom? Proteus,
>        I am sorry I must never trust thee more,
>        But count the world a stranger for thy sake.
>        The private wound is deepest: O time most accurst,
>        'Mongst all foes that a friend should be the worst!
>
> PROTEUS   My shame and guilt confounds me.
>        Forgive me, Valentine: if hearty sorrow
>        Be a sufficient ransom for offence,
>        I tender 't here; I do as truly suffer
>        As e'er I did commit.

I'm forced to wonder if Proteus is offering an apology or is feigning in
order to save himself from Silvia's attack. "I do truly suffer" suggests
the latter.

> VALENTINE (CONSIDERS IT, THEN:) Then I am paid;
> HE PRIES SYLVIA OFF OF PROTEUS AND HELPS HIM UP.
>        And once again I do receive thee honest.
>        Who by repentance is not satisfied
>        Is nor of heaven nor earth, for these are pleased.
>        By penitence the Eternal's wrath's appeased:
> ONE HAND ON SYLVIA, ONE HAND ON PROTEUS
>        And, that my love may appear plain and free,
>        All that was mine in Silvia I give thee.
> HE EASES SYLVIA TOWARD PROTEUS. PROTEUS, STILL IN PAIN, BACKS AWAY.
> SYLVIA, FURIOUS, BUNCHES VALENTINE IN THE STOMACH.
>
> JULIA (Sebastian)  O me unhappy!     FAINTS

I'm certain this was very funny but Julia has small motive to faint in
these circumstances.

> PROTEUS  Look to the boy.
>
> VALENTINE  HELPING JULIA UP Why, boy! why, wag! how now! what's the
> matter?
>        Look up; speak.
>
> JULIA  (Sebastian) O good sir, my master charged me to deliver a ring
>        to Madam Silvia, which, out of my neglect, was never done.
>
> PROTEUS   Where is that ring, boy?
>
> JULIA  (Sebastian)  Here 'tis; this is it.  GIVES HIM THE "WRONG" RING.
>
> PROTEUS How! let me see:
>        Why, this is the ring I gave to Julia.
>
> JULIA   (Sebastian)  O, cry you mercy, sir, I have mistook:
>        This is the ring you sent to Silvia.
>  SHOWS HIM THE OTHER RING BY RAISING HER MIDDLE FINGER TO HIM. (American
> signal for "fuck you")

Should we assume Julia's faint was a "feint" in order to set up a
circumstance where she can give Proteus the finger? Again, I am certain
all this was very amusing - but the humour is achieved at the expense of
any coherent interpretation of the text. Every interpretation of a play
is, necessarily, a kind of critique - but, in this instance, criticism
appears to have been offered as a substitute for characterization.

I have seen only one production of Two Gent's (presented by Bard on the
Beach, Vancouver). The scene described above was played with earnest
sincerity. It did not quite work for me - partly because the actors
seemed too mature for roles that, I think, demand excesses more
appropriate to very young lovers. I admired, however, their willingness
to trust the text. The tone described in the production in which Houck
participated seems more appropriate to the Launce's scenes. I'm sensible
that the scene may present some difficulties to a modern audience but
the staging described seems a parody designed to avoid addressing
attitudes that have fallen out of fashion. I spend much of my time
working closely with teenagers - most of whom can scent a sexist
attitude for miles. Nevertheless, their actual behaviors are more
closely represented by the absurd excesses of the young lovers in Two
Gents than by the doctrines of mutual respect impressed upon them by
their teachers. Jealousy, betrayal, deceit, faithfulness, exuberance,
despair, hopeless tenacity, forgiveness - these are the extremes of love
(and young love in particular). How does Julia's forgiveness of Proteus
differs from (say) Helena's forgiveness of Demetrius? The "force"
Proteus offers Sylvia is more disturbing than the "mischief" with which
Demetrius threatens Helena - but both are guilty of considering sexual
violence. The circumstances differ in tone and degree, granted. But
that's the point. If we can't be disturbed by Proteus' threat and
witness the genuine shame of his repentance then there is no need for
forgiveness and no real reconciliation. Houck's description appears to
report the play as a farce and the characters as puppets. The result
produces politics where we ought to see personalities; cheap shots where
genuine spiritual concerns are at stake.

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