PROTEUS O, that our fathers would applaud our loves To seal our happiness with their consents. O heavenly Julia! (1.3.49-51)
When Proteus complains that he and Julia can't wed without their fathers' permission, we're alerted to the fact that fathers are the ones who stand in the way of their children's happiness in the world of the play. This has major implications for Valentine and Silvia, who try to elope because Silvia's father wants her to marry Thurio.
VALENTINE A woman sometimes scorns what best contents her. Send her another; never give her o'er, For scorn at first makes after-love the more. If she do frown, 'tis not in hate of you, But rather to beget more love in you. If she do chide, 'tis not to have you gone, For why, the fools are mad, if left alone. Take no repulse, whatever she doth say; For 'get you gone' she doth not mean 'away.' Flatter and praise, commend, extol their graces; Though ne'er so black, say they have angels' faces. That man that hath a tongue, I say, is no man If with his tongue he cannot win a woman. (3.1.93-105)
According to Valentine, the only way for a man to "win a woman" is by using his tongue to flatter and woo her. On the one hand, this seems to be a condemnation of Proteus's tactics (resorting to rape when a woman refuses his advances). At the same time, however, Valentine is also insistent that if a woman is unresponsive to a man's overtures, she's just playing games. He says that if a woman tells a guy to get lost, she doesn't really mean it. This kind of attitude toward "winning" a woman is pretty dangerous, don't you think? We wonder if Valentine's advice is really that different from Proteus's approach, which is also to disregard the wishes of the woman he wants.
DUKE I now am full resolved to take a wife And turn her out to who will take her in. Then let her beauty be her wedding-dower; For me and my possessions she esteems not. (3.1.76-79)
This is a strange moment in the play. Here, the unmarried Duke tells Valentine that he's decided to "take a wife," which means that he's ready to boot Silvia out of the house without a "wedding-dower" (because she's a disrespectful daughter). Is the Duke just trying to scare off Valentine? Maybe he's hoping Valentine will lose interest in Silvia if he thinks she has no dowry? If so, why doesn't the Duke just say that he's going to kick Silvia out of the house? What does his so-called interest in finding a new wife have to do with his daughter living at home?
DUKE What's here? (Reads.) Silvia, this night I will enfranchise thee. 'Tis so. And here's the ladder for the purpose. (3.1.154-156)
Uh-oh. Valentine is totally busted when the Duke finds a love letter to Silvia in Valentine's coat. When a rope ladder falls out of Valentine's jacket, it's also pretty clear that Valentine is planning on pulling a "Romeo and Juliet" maneuver by climbing up to Silvia's window and then eloping with the Duke's daughter. Like Romeo, Valentine is banished from the city limits and the love of his life when the Duke catches him. Good thing Two Gentlemen of Verona is a comedy and not a tragedy – comedies always end in marriage, so it's a pretty safe bet that things will work out for Silvia and Valentine.
LANCE She hath more qualities than a water-spaniel, which is much in a bare Christian. He takes out a piece of
Here is the catalog of her condition. (Reads.) Imprimis, She can fetch and carry. Why, a horse can do no more: nay, a horse cannot fetch but only carry; therefore is she better than a jade. (Reads.) Item, She can milk. Look you, a sweet virtue in a maid with clean hands. (3.1.276-284)
When Lance announces that he's fallen in love with an unnamed woman, he proceeds to make a list of all her best features. It's pretty clear that Lance is interested in qualities that would make for a good wife, which, in Lance's mind, seems to be nothing more than a servant. It also seems like Shakespeare is using Lance to parody and make fun of the way the men (especially Thurio) in the play view love and marriage.
SILVIA Thou art not ignorant what dear good will I bear unto the banish'd Valentine, Nor how my father would enforce me marry Vain Thurio, whom my very soul abhorred. Thyself hast loved, and I have heard thee say No grief did ever come so near thy heart As when thy lady and thy true love died, Upon whose grave thou vow'dst pure chastity. (4.3.16-23)
Here, Silvia asks her good friend Eglamour to help her run away and find Valentine. When Silvia explains why she's chosen to ask Eglamour for help, she reveals something interesting about his past. Eglamour, it seems, was married once and is now a widower. Not only that, but he loved his late wife so much that, since her death, he's sworn off all other women. It seems like Eglamour is one of the most loyal men in the play, which makes him a foil to the unfaithful Proteus.
JULIA O, Proteus, let this habit make thee blush. Be thou ashamed that I have took upon me Such an immodest raiment, if shame live In a disguise of love. It is the lesser blot, modesty finds, Women to change their shapes than men their minds. (5.4.112-117)
Although Julia is ashamed that she cross-dressed in order travel to Proteus, she says here that Proteus's behavior is even worse because his deception involved infidelity, which could have prevented their union in marriage. Julia's deception and social impropriety, on the hand, is excusable and justifiable because cross-dressing as "Sebastian" enabled her to reunite with Proteus and ensure a wedding match.
What's the big deal about Julia disguising herself as a boy, you ask? Well, sixteenth-century Puritans thought cross-dressing (especially on stage) was a major sin. Check out Phillip Stubbes's anti-theater rant in a book called The Anatomy of Abuses (1583): "Our apparel was given as a sign distinctive, to discern betwixt sex and sex, and therefore one to wear the apparel of another sex, is…to adulterate the verity of his own kind…these women [who cross-dress] may not improperly be called Hermaphroditi, that is Monsters of both kinds, half women, half men." So, this sort of explains why Julia has been feeling so ashamed of her disguise.
VALENTINE, to Julia and Proteus Come, come, a hand from either. Let me be blest to make this happy close. 'Twere pity two such friends should be long foes. PROTEUS Bear witness, Heaven, I have my wish for ever. JULIA And I mine. (5.4.126-131)
We know what you're thinking. Why the heck does Julia take Proteus back (and agree to marry him) about two seconds after Proteus tries to rape Silvia? We're wondering the same thing ourselves. Some critics see this as evidence that Two Gentlemen is a lousy play – the reunion between Julia and Proteus is completely unrealistic. Other critics point out that the engagement may be abrupt and strange to us but "comedy" always ends in marriage so, we shouldn't be so surprised. So, what do you think about all this?
DUKE Thou art a gentleman and well derived; Take thou thy Silvia, for thou hast deserved her. VALENTINE I thank your Grace; the gift hath made me happy. I now beseech you, for your daughter's sake, To grant one boom that I shall ask of you. (5.4.158-162)
In the play, it's Silvia's father who determines the conditions of her wedding. When Thurio announces that he doesn't want to marry Silvia, the Duke immediately offers Silvia to Valentine because he has earned ("deserved") her, as if the Duke's daughter is a possession that he can bestow on the man of his choosing. We also notice that Valentine responds to the offer in the same terms – he thanks the Duke for the generous "gift" (that would be Silvia).
VALENTINE Come, Proteus, […] our day of marriage shall be yours, One feast, one house, one mutual happiness. (5.4.183; 185-186)
Here, Valentine tells Proteus they should all celebrate by have a double wedding. This is pretty typical of Shakespearean comedy, which always ends in marriage. Does this mean that Valentine's bromance with Proteus is being replaced by his marriage to Silvia? Not necessarily. Valentine says the double wedding will be "one feast, one house, one mutual happiness."
This whole "mutual happiness" comment seems to play on the biblical idea that, when a man and woman marry, they become united as "one flesh" (Genesis 2.24). The funny thing is, Valentine isn't talking to his future wife here. He's speaking to Proteus. What's up with that? Does Valentine mean that Proteus will enjoy "one mutual happiness" with his bride-to-be? Does he suggest that Valentine and Proteus will share "one mutual happiness"? Is Valentine saying that both couples will enjoy "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 just raise even more questions about which kind of relationship is more important?