Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 4, No. 193. Saturday, 27 March 1993.
Date: Friday, 26 Mar 93 13:55:08 +1000
Subject: Re: Staging The Two Gentlemen of Verona
I am grateful to Stephen Orgel for mentioning my recent production of The
Two Gentlemen of Verona in a recent posting. As he rightly pointed out,
I've been away from e-mail for the past three weeks and so I've been very
interested to catch up on the correspondence on what I think is a useful
play for us: just as Michael Billington suggested recently in _The
Guardian_ that Lear is the tragedy for the late 20th century, so I believe
2GV is the comedy for our time, dealing as I think it does with connections
between patriarchy, 1980s-style yuppiedom and rape. I'm in the middle of
preparing a paper on this topic and now's not the proper time to go into
the kind of detail I'm currently grappling with.
On the basis of our experience of working on a production, I can confirm
that it's a particularly good script for young actors to come to explore.
And as in the production that Michael Friedman writes about, our Sylvia was
gagged from the time of the rape until almost the end, by which stage the
character was supposed to be so traumatised that she was incapable of
further speech. Not only was she gagged, but she was also in a
straightjacket which the outlaws put on her when she was captured. This
made the events subsequent to the rape both horrific and outrageously
comical, while at the same time I hope drawing attention to the ultimate
lack of institutional political and personal power that the women as a
group have in the world of the play. (So how is that different from the
world we live in?) I hope it's clear that I don't think the script is, or
indeed could be in any essential way, sexist.
My thinking about the play was enriched by communications with Randall
Nakayama of San Francisco State University, who illuminated several points
in the script for me and pushed me to a more adventurous staging than I'd
At the risk of sounding boastful I can report to anyone considering
presenting the play that this production, the 11th annual Wellington Summer
Shakespeare production, proved very popular with public and critics,
attracting record audiences despite being non-canonical and little-known.
Go ahead, do it.
The use of a real dog, in our case the biggest one we could find, seems to
me at this stage very important, both in terms of the comedy and because
like Launce it focuses attention on the textuality of the play, precisely
because it is a real dog.
Which brings me to the point of this intervention. Launce's monologues are
explicitly directed to the audience as audience, drawing attention to the
status of the spectators. And at one point he says to them, "You shall be
the judge." I'd be interested to know whether this is the only time in a
play of the period (outside prologues and epilogues, like Puck's or
Prospero's, which are a special case) where a character addresses the
audience directly and what's more gives them a task, which is of course no
more than their normal but usually unstated task--to act as judge. I can't
immediately think of another example from any of the plays I know well, but
I may be overlooking something really obvious.