Analysis: What's Up With the Ending?
"All that was mine in Silvia I give thee"
The ending of Two Gentlemen of Verona is one of the most bizarre and disturbing endings that we've ever read. After Valentine puts a stop to Proteus's attempted rape of Silvia, Valentine does something obnoxious – he yells at Proteus for being a lousy friend but says nothing about Proteus's violation of Silvia. Proteus apologizes immediately and then, in a gesture of good will, Valentine says, "All that was mine in Silvia I give thee" (5.4.5).
Most critics interpret this line to mean that Valentine is offering to "give" Silvia to his friend as a peace offering that will secure Valentine's friendship with Proteus. Read this way, the play would seem to champion male friendship above all other relationships – especially heterosexual romance. This is certainly what happens in one of Shakespeare's major sources for Two Gentlemen. In the story of Titus and Gisippus (related first by Boccaccio and later retold in Thomas Elyot's 1531 Book of the Governor), Gisippus gives his best friend, Titus, the woman he is supposed to marry after Titus falls in love with her (Book Named the Governor, 2.12).
Some critics, however, have been known to read the lines a bit differently – they argue that Shakespeare is trying to reconcile the tension between male friendship and male-female romance. For these critics, Valentine means to say something like "all the love I feel for Silvia, I give to thee, too." In other words, Valentine could be saying that he will love his friend and girlfriend equally.
For some other critics, the ending is just too terrible – from a moral perspective and also from an artistic standpoint. Anne Barton writes that "the play's resolution is achieved through a movement of plot so brusque, so destructive of the relationships of the characters as they have been developed, that generations of commentators have tried to absolve Shakespeare from Valentine's overgenerous gift of his lady Silvia to his friend Proteus, the man who had been doing his best to rape her only a moment before" (The Riverside Shakespeare 177).
The Double Wedding Promise
As disturbing as the ending is, in some ways, the play's final scene is predictable. That's because Shakespearean comedies always end with marriage (or the promise of one).
So, we're not completely shocked when Silvia's dad (the Duke) shows up and says it's OK for Valentine and Silvia to get hitched. We are, however, baffled when Julia takes Proteus back after she watches him try to rape Silvia. Even so, we're left with the promise of a double wedding when, in the play's final lines, Valentine turns to Proteus and says, "our day of marriage shall be yours,/ one feast, one house, one mutual happiness" (5.4.14). Does this mean that Valentine's bromance with Proteus is being replaced by his marriage to Silvia? Not necessarily.
Valentine's "one mutual happiness" comment is ambiguous. On the one hand, it seems to be a play on the biblical idea that, when a man and woman marry, they become united as "one flesh" (Genesis 2.24). If this is the case, then Valentine could be referring to the "mutual happiness" shared between a bride and groom. The funny thing is, Valentine isn't talking to his future wife here. He's speaking to Proteus. This makes us wonder if the "one mutual happiness" comment is an echo of the idea that male friendship turns men into two halves of the same person. In Book 2 of Thomas Elyot's The Book Named the Governor (a major literary influence on Shakespeare's play), Elyot writes that male bonds are a "blessed and stable connection of sundry wills, making of two persons one in having and suffering" (emphasis ours). The idea that Valentine and Proteus are two halves of the same person is an idea that appears more than once in the play and we talk about this in "Quotes" for "Friendship." So, is Valentine suggesting that he and Proteus will share "one mutual happiness"? Something else?
These final lines are pretty tricky. How we interpret them is likely to determine how we interpret the entire play – does Valentine's final speech resolve all of the tension between male friendship and male-female romance that we've seen throughout the play? Or does it verify that male friendship is more important than everything else?