Study Guide

The Two Gentlemen of Verona Society and Class

By William Shakespeare

Society and Class

LUCETTA
What would your Ladyship?
JULIA
Is 't near dinner time?
LUCETTA
I would it were,
That you might kill your stomach on your meat
And not upon your maid. (1.2.70-74)

Here, Lucetta suggests that she wishes Julia would expend some of her energy by eating dinner. That way, Julia would be less likely to take out her rage and anger on her woman in waiting. As Julia's servant, there's little Lucetta can do when Julia throws a tantrum. It seems like Lucetta's only option is to tease and mock Julia when she behaves badly.

PANTHINO
He wonder'd that your lordship
Would suffer him to spend his youth at home
While other men, of slender reputation,
Put forth their sons to seek preferment out:
Some to the wars to try their fortune there,
Some to discover islands far away,
Some to the studious universities.
For any or for all these exercises
He said that Proteus your son was meet,
And did request me to importune you
To let him spend his time no more at home,
Which would be great impeachment to his age
In having known no travel in his youth. (1.3.5-17)

It doesn't take much for Panthino to convince Antonio that Proteus should travel to Milan. That's because Proteus's father is concerned about what other noblemen think of him. He's also concerned about making sure that his son does everything that a young nobleman is supposed to do – like travel abroad to see the world.

VALENTINE
Ha? let me see. Ay, give it me, it's mine.
Sweet ornament that decks a thing divine!
Ah, Silvia, Silvia!
SPEED, calling
Madam Silvia! Madam Silvia!
VALENTINE
How now, sirrah?
SPEED
She is not within hearing, sir.
VALENTINE
Why, sir, who bade you call her?
SPEED
Your worship, sir, or else I mistook.
VALENTINE
Well, you'll still be too forward. (2.1.4-12)

In the play, much of the clever back-and-forth dialogue is characterized by Speed out-witting his master. Here, Speed insults Valentine's love interest and gets away with it.

VALENTINE
What should I see then?
SPEED
Your own present folly and her passing deformity;
for he, being in love, could not see to garter his
hose, and you, being in love, cannot see to put on
your hose.
VALENTINE
Belike, boy, then, you are in love, for last
morning you could not see to wipe my shoes.
SPEED
True, sir, I was in love with my bed. I thank you,
you swinged me for my love, which makes me the
bolder to chide you for yours. (2.1.74-83)

When Speed mocks his master for being blinded by love, Valentine responds by trying to put Speed back in his place. By reminding his servant that he roused him out of bed that morning to polish his shoes, Valentine lets Speed know who's boss.

SPEED, aside
O jest unseen, inscrutable, invisible
As a nose on a man's face, or a weathercock on a
   steeple!
My master sues to her, and she hath taught her
   suitor,
He being her pupil, to become her tutor.
O excellent device! was there ever heard a better?
That my master, being scribe, to himself should
write the letter? (2.1.136-144)

Speed may be a servant but he's pretty sharp. When Silvia tricks Valentine into writing her a love letter, Valentine doesn't understand what's going on – Speed has to point it out to him.

LANCE
I
think Crab my dog be the sourest-natured dog that
lives: my mother weeping, my father wailing, my
sister crying, our maid howling, our cat wringing
her hands, and all our house in a great perplexity,
yet did not this cruel-hearted cur shed one tear. (2.3.4-9)

It seems like the servants in the play often function as foils to the main characters. Here, Lance's relationship with his beloved dog Crab is a parody of some of the romantic relationships in the play. Like Julia, Lance is completely loyal and devoted to his pooch.

LANCE
I am but a fool, look you, and yet I have the wit
to think my master is a kind of a knave, but that's all
one if he be but one knave. He lives not now that
knows me to be in love, (3.1.268-271)

Lance takes a lot of pleasure in the fact that he keeps secrets from his master. Here, he calls Proteus a "knave" (an idiot) and reveals that he's fallen in love with an unnamed woman.

THIRD OUTLAW
By the bare scalp of Robin Hood's fat friar,
This fellow were a king for our wild faction.
FIRST OUTLAW
We'll have him.—Sirs, a word.
                  The Outlaws step aside to talk. 
SPEED
Master, be one of them. It's an honorable kind
of thievery. (4.1.36-40)

This reference to Robin Hood hints that the outlaws might be spending their time stealing from the rich and giving to the poor, especially when Speed says their crimes are an "honourable kind of thievery."

SECOND OUTLAW, advancing
Tell us this: have you any thing to take to?
VALENTINE
Nothing but my fortune.
THIRD OUTLAW
Know then that some of us are gentlemen,
Such as the fury of ungoverned youth
Thrust from the company of awful men.
Myself was from Verona banishèd
For practicing to steal away a lady,
An heir and near allied unto the Duke. (4.1.42-49)

The Third Outlaw goes out of his way to point out that the forest dwelling gang is made up of noblemen. What's up with that?

LANCE
He thrusts me himself into the company of
three or four gentlemanlike dogs under the Duke's
table; he had not been there—bless the mark!—a
pissing while, but all the chamber smelt him. 'Out
with the dog!' says one. 'What cur is that?' says
another. 'Whip him out!' says the third. 'Hang
him up!' says the Duke. I, having been acquainted with
the smell before, knew it was Crab, and goes me to
the fellow that whips the dogs: 'Friend,' quoth I,
'you mean to whip the dog?' 'Ay, marry, do I,'
quoth he. 'You do him the more wrong,' quoth I. 
''twas I did the thing you wot of.' He makes me no
more ado, but whips me out of the chamber. How
many masters would do this for his servant? (4.4.17-30)

As Lance recounts how he saved Crab from punishment for peeing under the Duke's table, we learn that Lance took a whipping for his dog. Though we don't see this violence on stage, it seems like much of the humor in the play revolves around Lance's stories about being physically abused by his social "betters." This anticipates the kind of slap-stick humor we see in Shakespeare's The Comedy of Errors, where the servants (the Dromio brothers) are always being smacked around.