The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.1946  Saturday, 4 August 2001

From:           David Wallace <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Thursday, 02 Aug 2001 13:29:45 -0700
Subject: 12.1939 Re: Two Gents, Catching Cold
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1939 Re: Two Gents, Catching Cold

Billy Houck writes of Two Gentlemen of Verona:

>I was writing a description of my production, and asking if anyone had
>another method of staging this scene. There must be many.  In a scant 25
>lines, a man tries to rape a woman, is stopped by his friend, who is
>also the woman's lover, who accepts his apology then offers to give his
>rights to the woman to his friend, the rapist. Meanwhile, the rapist's
>lover, who is  dressed as a boy, "swoons."
>Getting all this action into this very short time with any sense of
>plausibility creates a problem for directors. I solved it by giving
>Silvia a chance to fight back.

I apologize if my comments came off as an unfavorable review of the
entire production. I think it clear, however, that the directorial
choices described accept that the scene is inherently "implausible" and
avoid exploring the scene by offering comic shtick (broken fingernail,
kick to the groin, obscene gesture). It is difficult to offer an
alternative unless I am permitted to make some presumptions about a
production I've not witnessed based on a fairly thorough line-by-line
description of the action (including audience response). I think the
"implausibility" of this scene was solved by more than providing an
opportunity for Sylvia to fight back. I'd be very surprised if the scene
described was not broadly comic and greeted with appreciative laughter.

I don't deny the scene presents difficulties. But labeling it
"implausible" doesn't seem a productive starting point for making it
work. Lear dividing his kingdom based on the ability of his daughters to
flatter - that's implausible. But there you go.

Proteus attempts to force himself on Sylvia. I remarked that in this
production, Sylvia appears to be in no real danger. Indeed, it appears
to be Proteus who requires protection. The production I witnessed,
recently, made it clear that, without Valentine's timely arrival,
Proteus might have had his way. Sylvia fought back - but Proteus was
bigger and stronger.

Valentine admonishes Proteus and forsakes his friendship. In this
production, Sylvia has her hands around Proteus' neck. In the production
I witnessed, Proteus was mortified with shame and humiliation. His
apology was despairing and heartfelt. Proteus' behaviour is
contemptible, but the sincerity of his repentance made it difficult to
utterly condemn him. (He wept and was obviously in anguish of his own
creating) It was Sylvia, who by look and gesture, importuned Valentine
to relent and to forgive his friend. Her generosity was extraordinary -
matched only by Valentine's extraordinary offer to relinquish his claim
to Sylvia. Here, the conflict between friendship and romantic love is
put to its most severe test. Valentine's love is offered "plain and
free". He is offering to sacrifice his own happiness for his friend.
This is the crux of the entire play since honour, love, and friendship
are the themes at issue. I can see how a modern audience might have a
problem with this - but I don't think Sylvia elbowing Valentine in the
gut is the solution.

Shakespeare offers the solution by having Julia faint. I know one cannot
act an emblematic moment - but Julia's faint really encapsulates the
only authentic response anyone can have when confronted with such
extraordinary extremes of violence and forgiveness; discord and
reconciliation. Who could bear this? To undercut this with Julia
offering Proteus the finger seems tantamount to giving the whole darn
play the finger ("Screw this implausible mess!"). In the production I
witnessed, Julia's faint produced some nervous laughter after some
minutes of poignant silence. I took the faint to be authentic rather
than contrived - which I think is the stronger choice. (Otherwise, Julia
appears manipulative when "plain and free" love is in order).

Perhaps I am mistaken, but Houck's production seems to be contending
with modern sexual politics rather than contending with the
possibilities offered in the actual script. I don't suggest this is
without merit - only that the insights such an interpretation offers are
achieved by working against the grain of the text. If we accept that the
scene is too "implausible" for a modern audience - well Houck has made a
necessary choice in order to satisfy those sensibilities. If we accept
that the scene is intended to be astonishing and disturbing - well what
sort of "interpretation" is required? "Plain and free" is how I would
describe the "interpretation" of this scene in the only production of
this play that I have witnessed. I did not feel invited to judge Proteus
or to laugh at his situation. I felt invited to reflect on my own
capacity for betrayal, repentance, and forgiveness. But like Houck, I'd
be interested in hearing other interpretations.

                               David Wallace

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