We've said this before but it's important to say it again here – as Shakespeare's very first "comedy" (probably his very first play), Two Gentlemen of Verona is a template for all of the Shakespearean comedies that follow. So, it seems like a good idea to come up with a nifty list of conventions that Shakespeare sticks with throughout his career.
- Light, Humorous Tone: Check. For the most part, Two Gentlemen of Verona is pretty humorous in tone. Although it explores some pretty weighty issues – like sex, violence, and love – it does so with a fairly light and irreverent hand. Take, for example, the way Shakespeare parodies conventional ideas about love and loyalty by creating a character (Lance) that is more loyal and devoted to his dog "Crab" than some of the main characters are devoted to their romantic partners and friends. (Proteus, we're talking about you here.)
That said, Two Gentlemen also has some pretty dark undertones. For the play's female characters, sexual assault is a constant threat – after all, it's the reason why Julia disguises herself as a boy page while she travels to Milan. As we know, Proteus nearly rapes Silvia in Act 5, Scene 4, until his assault is thwarted by Valentine.
- Clever Dialogue and Witty Banter: Check. Although, literary critic Harold Goddard once wrote that Two Gentlemen "contains some of the most boring wit," we'd like to point out a couple of things. First, Speed has a penchant for clever puns and fast wit. Second, witty repartee is a major component of the flirting ("wooing" if you live in the sixteenth century) that goes on in this play. So, while the dialogue may not be as great as the snappy banter in, say, The Taming of the Shrew, it's still pretty darn clever.
- Deception and Disguise: Check. Proteus is responsible for most of the deception in the play. He sneakily betrays Julia and Valentine when he makes a play for Silvia and he lies to the Duke and Thurio. Julia and Silvia, to some extent, are also guilty of deception insofar as they tend to play mind games with their suitors at the beginning of the play. Of course, Julia pulls off the ultimate disguise, which you can read about below.
- Mistaken Identity: Check. When Julia cross-dresses as "Sebastian," her cheating boyfriend, Proteus, doesn't recognize her. In fact, he hires "Sebastian" as his page boy and sends "him" on an errand to deliver a ring (the same ring Julia gave Proteus at the beginning of the play) to Silvia.
- Love Overcomes Obstacles: Check. Julia and Proteus's romantic relationship survives Julia's silly mind games, Proteus's journey to Milan, and astonishingly, Proteus's attempted rape of Silvia. Similarly, Valentine and Silvia manage to get together (with the Duke's approval) despite the following hurdles: the Duke's banishment of Valentine from Milan, the Duke's plans for Silvia to wed Thurio, and, again, Proteus's attempted rape of Silvia.
- Family Drama: Check. Proteus is mad at his dad for sending him to Milan when all he wants to do is hang out with Julia. The Duke treats his daughter like a piece of property that he can bestow on any man of his choosing (Thurio and then Valentine when Thurio turns out to be a loser). Julia runs away from home, and so on. But don't worry because things always work out for families in plays like this, so keep reading….
- Multiple Plots with Twists and Turns: Check. This one is pretty self-explanatory, especially if you've been paying attention to what we've been saying.
- (Re) unification of Families: Check. Cover your eyes if you don't want us to ruin the ending…. In the play's last scene, Silvia's dad (the Duke) shows up and says it's OK for Valentine and Silvia to get hitched. Hooray! We're so glad Two Gentlemen is a "comedy" and not a "tragedy," because now Silvia and Valentine don't have to pull a "Romeo and Juliet" (secretly elope and then, well, you know what happens at the end of that play). Although he never speaks to his daughter directly (what's up with that?), we can assume he's forgiven her for running off into the forest. So, with Silvia, the Duke, and Silvia's soon-to-be-husband on good terms, we've got ourselves a little family reunion.
- Marriage: Check. Check. Shakespeare's comedies always, always, always end with a marriage (or the promise of one). In this play's final lines, Valentine turns to his buddy Proteus (who has just gotten re-engaged to Julia), and says "our day of marriage shall be yours,/ one feast, one house, one mutual happiness" (5.4.14). In other words, both couples are getting hitched in a double wedding back at the Duke's place.
More to Explore…
OK, now you know why we categorize Two Gentlemen of Verona as a "comedy." But don't just take our word for it. Compare this list to our discussions of "Genre" in some of Shakespeare's others comedies, like, say, Twelfth Night. You might also want to think about how "comedy" is different than "tragedy." (We've got a handy checklist for that too. See, for example, our discussion of Hamlet's genre.