Two Gentlemen of Verona is one of Shakespeare's earliest comedies, and perhaps even his earliest play period. The two gentlemen in the title, Proteus and Valentine, are sent by their fathers to the imperial court at Milan, where they both fall in love with the emperor's daughter Sylvia. Unfortunately, Proteus was already in love with his childhood friend Julia. Proteus contrives to have Valentine banished by the emperor (or Duke, the play is just a bit inconsistent) so he can have Sylvia all to himself, but she is repulsed by his treachery. Meanwhile Julia has come to Milan disguised as a boy to try to reunite with Proteus, and Valentine has become the leader of a band of lovable rogues.
Two Gents is a controversial play for many reasons, not the least of which is Proteus' attempted rape of Sylvia near the end and his very quick forgiveness. Many see it as one of Shakespeare's weaker plays, and the hasty ending seems to indicate a fledgling playwright. However, a lot of the tropes Shakespeare would use several times over throughout the course of his career first show up here: the clownish servant, the girl disguised as a boy, etc.
In 1971, a rock musical adaptation of this play was successfully produced on Broadway with a book by John Guare and Mel Shapiro, lyrics by Guare, and music by Galt MacDermot, and won the 1972 Tony Award for Best Musical (beating out both Follies and Grease).
Has nothing to do with that other play, which is also set in Verona.
Tropes featured in Two Gentlemen of Verona include:
- Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder: It doesn't take long for Proteus to forget his vows of eternal love to Julia after he sees Sylvia.
- Adaptational Villainy: Proteus is much more villainous than his counterparts from the two stories on which The Two Gentlemen is based: Felix from Diana Enamorada and Titus from The Decameron (Day 10, story 8). Felix is likewise a false lover but neither betrays a best friend (there being no Valentine counterpart) nor attempts rape, while Titus remains loyal to and honest with his best friend Gisippus despite being in love with the same woman (although the two of them do conspire to pull a Bed Trick on her, which is essentially rape by deception.)
- Ambiguously Gay: Despite the play's basically heterosexual Love Dodecahedron, it's not hard for Valentine and Proteus to come off as this to modern viewers. In Shakespeare's day, male friendship was seen as a higher ideal than romantic love between a man and a woman.
- Arranged Marriage: Sylvia's father wants her to marry Tyrio, and banishes Valentine when he learns that Valentine's in love with her.
- Artistic License Geography: Averted. While the gentlemen and their servants take a ship to get from Verona to Padua (or Milan, the script says both at different times), and all three cities do not have access to the sea, the three cities did have access to an extensive network of canals linking Verona to Padua and Milan. Some of these canals are still around today, though their transportation uses have been replaced by modern transportation methods.
- Be My Valentine: Valentine, one of the titular characters, is a romantic lover and love-interest of Silvia.
- Beta Couple: Valentine and Sylvia.
- Canine Companion: With all the dysfunctional relationships going on elsewhere, Launce's love for his dog Crab is widely regarded as the purest love in the entire play.
- Cloud Cuckoolander: Launce.
- Coupled Couples: The original couples of Valentine and Sylvia and Proteus and Julia end up together by the end of the play.
- Deus ex Machina: The finale, in which all the play's conflicts are resolved because the people who were perpetuating them simultaneously get bored of doing so.
- Easily Forgiven: Proteus at the end of the play.
- First Girl Wins: Proteus ends up realizing he's in love with Julia after all, and the ending implies that they're about to get married.
- Heterosexual Life-Partners: Proteus and Valentine, as well as their respective servants, Launce and Speed.
- Ironic Name: Speed. (Not entirely ironic. He's said to "have a quick wit"..."And yet I was last chidden for being too slow.")
- I Will Wait for You: Julia for Proteus. Until she gets tired of waiting and goes after him.
- The Jeeves: Speed.
- Long-Distance Relationship: The one between Proteus and Julia doesn't work out so well...
- Love Makes You Evil: Proteus, big-time. After falling in love with Silvia, he betrays his friend Valentine in order to get rid of the competition.
- Malaproper: Launce.
- Meaningful Name:
- Valentine, the patron saint of lovers.
- Proteus was named after a sea monster of mythology who could change its shape, indicating Proteus' inconstancy and treacherousness.
- A possible one for Silvia, whose name means "spirit of the forest". The forest is where Valentine is banished, and she determinedly follows him there.
- The servant Speed is said to have a "quick wit". Doubles as an ironic name, since he's constantly running late and "chidden for being too slow".
- Crab the dog is probably named, not after the animal, but after a "crab-apple", commonly referred to simply as a "crab"—appropriate, since Launce calls him "the sourest-natured dog that lives".
- Mister Muffykins: The "little jewel" of a dog that Proteus attempted to send to Silvia is implied to have been this; Launce contemptuously refers to it as a "squirrel". It's stolen from Launce by a bunch of marketplace delinquents, at which point he attempts to give his own dog, Crab, to Silvia, the logic being that Crab is ten times bigger than the other dog and therefore superior.
- The Mourning After: Eglamour apparently vowed perpetual chastity after the lady he loved died.
- My God, What Have I Done?: Proteus' response toward the end of the play, after realizing just how far he's fallen.
- Near-Rape Experience: Proteus' threatened rape of Sylvia in the finale is interrupted by Valentine.
- Nice to the Waiter: Valentine, the Nice Guy, treats his servant, Speed, as a friend. Proteus treats his own servant, Launce, like dirt, and appropriately he turns out to be a heel.
- Noble Fugitive: The bandits, and eventually Valentine as well.
- One Steve Limit: Averted with Sir Eglamour, the Milanese friend of Silvia, who has the same name as the suitor of Julia who's mentioned briefly in act 1.
- The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything: We never see the bandits in the forest actually engage in banditry.
- Pungeon Master: Launce, and to a lesser extent Speed.
- Sad Clown: Launce."Nay, it will be this hour ere I have done weeping."
- Servile Snarker: Speed.Proteus: Beshrew me, but you have a quick wit.Speed: And yet it cannot overtake your slow purse.
- Spell My Name with an "S":
- So...is it "Lance" or "Launce"?
- For that matter, we've got either "Thurio," "Turio," or "Tyrio."
- Stalker with a Crush: Proteus to Sylvia.
- Stripping the Scarecrow: In the musical version, Julia and Lucetta sing about getting their Sweet Polly Oliver costumes from a scarecrow.
- Sweet Polly Oliver: Julia dresses up as a man and calls herself "Sebastian".
- Urine Trouble: In a monologue, Launce recounts a few humiliating experiences of this kind with Crab.Nay, I remember the trick you served me when I took my leave of Madam Silvia: did not I bid thee still mark me and do as I do? when didst thou see me heave up my leg and make water against a gentlewoman's farthingale? didst thou ever see me do such a trick?
- The Women Are Safe with Us: When he is made captain of the outlaws, Valentine commands that they do no "outrages" to women.