Two Gentlemen in Verona Essay
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The Abasement of The Upper Class Most people have a predetermined idea of the levels of a social hierarchy. They presume that the upper class is noble, proper and educated while the lower class is of the opposite; the lower class work for the upper class and thus cannot possibly exceed the caliber of the upper class. Shakespeare upends this predetermined notion by utilizing the characters to convey a strong sense of role reversal throughout The Two Gentlemen of Verona.
This role reversal upsets the stereotypical social hierarchy and strongly suggests that the upper class may not be as highly esteemed as they are perceived to be.
Loyalty is an underlying theme throughout the play. Symbols of loyalty prompt the reader to not only compare the loyalty of a servant’s relationship with an upperclassman’s relationship but also conclude that this comparison often leads to the degradation of the upper class characters. Proteus refers to himself as “spaniel-like” (4. 2. 4) in Act 4; however his actions show that he is the direct opposite of what a spaniel, or a dog, should be like. Judging from his fickle actions of suddenly falling in love with Silvia after swearing to remain faithful to Julia, Proteus is unable to have nearly as much loyalty as a spaniel should have. Thus one can conclude that Proteus is not nearly as loyal as a dog. His condemnable actions lead to an abasement of the upper class and gives way to the idea that the aristocratic aren’t as respectable as they seem to be.
The relationship between Lance and Crab can be compared to Proteus and Julia. Lance, the servant has an unusually loyal and selfless relationship with his dog, Crab. It is interesting to note that Lance seems to be more loyal or devoted to Crab, than his dog is to him. In fact, Lance even takes the blame and beating for his dog when Crab his caught “a pissing” (4. 4. 1) under the table. This loyalty can be compared to Proteus and Julia in that Lance’s selflessly devoted relationship with Crab is a parody of the despicably unfaithful relationship Proteus has with Julia.
The “reversed” relationship between Lance and Crab also gives way to a new and important idea for the rest of the play. Upon closer inspection, one can see that the master, in this case Lance resembles the characteristics of a loyal servant, which should be the role played by Lance’s dog, Crab. The unusual reversal of roles that this master and its dog should have, gives way to a recurring idea – prominent throughout the rest of the play, that the characteristics of the lower class and upper class are interchanged.
Speed and Lance are two servants who happen to be servants of two deeply in-love masters. In Act 3 Scene 1, Lance claims that he too, is in love and reveals a list of which he has written down the merits of his lady. Typically, one should assume that this list – coming from an uneducated servant, should not exhibit a great amount of depth or critical thinking; however this list surprises the reader in its logicality and wittiness, and in addition, reinforces the idea of the switching of hierarchal roles. Items on Lance’s list exhibit great practicality such as “She can sew” (3. . 298) and “She can wash and scour” (3. 1. 329). Lance also cleverly transforms flaws into virtues when he describes that “She hath more hair than wit,” or that she is younger than she is intelligent and “more fault than hairs,” or more flaws than she is young and “more wealth than faults” (3. 3. 3) which amalgamates to that she is wealthier than flawed since “that word (wealth) makes the faults gracious” because Lance understands that in real life, level of wealth is a highly influential, and possibly ultimate deciding factor in marriage or a relationship.
The realistic and practical nature of the list shows the maturity and intelligence of Lance, which begs to question the nature of the picturesque but fickle and unsustainable nature of the love affairs of the masters, Valentine and Proteus. This once again reiterates the role reversal of social hierarchy and through the sensibleness of Lance and shows that the upper class may not be as intellectual as they are perceived to be. There are also other smaller remarks in scenes that support the notion that a role reversal suggests the idea that aristocrats may not be as intellectual as them seem to be.
For example, in Act 2 Scene 1, when Valentine is reunited with his love, Silvia – Speed provides several asides in which he mockingly says “a million of manners! ” (2. 1. 95) in response to Valentine greeting Silvia with “a thousand good morrows” (2. 1. 93-4). In this series of asides, the audience can see that the servant is sensibly belittling the absurdity of his master’s love for Silvia. An encounter in Act 3 Scene 1 between the Duke and Valentine also pokes at a role reversal when the Duke, perhaps the character with the highest social class throughout the novel, seeks advice on how to “court” (3. . 85) his lover, from Valentine: a relatively subordinate character. It is arguable that the Duke only asked Valentine for advice as a part of his scheme to figure out how Valentine has been courting his own daughter, Silvia. However, if one looks at the scene and context secluded from the ulterior intentions, the mere act of a superior asking an inferior for advice heavily suggests that the role reversal of characters in The Two Gentlemen of Verona and ultimately, that the aristocratic, or Duke, is not as almighty and wise as he is assumed to be.
Finally, perhaps the most prominent manifestation of role reversal and the abasement of aristocrats lies in the exchange between Valentine and Speed. Throughout the beginning half of the play, Valentine disapproves Proteus’s love for Julia and claims that by staying at home with Julia, Proteus will have “homely wits” (1. 1. 2) and wear out his “youth with shapeless idleness” (1. 1. 8). However during Act 2 Scene 1, Valentine is criticized by Speed, for the negative effects that he has brought upon himself as a result of his love for Silvia.
Speed not only brings attention to the fact that only recently did Valentine “chid[e] at Sir Proteus for going ungartered” (2. 1. 70) but also has somewhat become blinded by love. During Speed’s observation of Valentine’s state in Act 2 Scene 1, Speed condemns Valentine who now “walk[s] alone like one that had the pestilence” (2. 1. 21) as a result of being in love with Silvia, when Valentine used to “walk like one of the lions” (2. 1. 27). As a result of being “metamorphosed with a mistress” (2. 1. 29-30), when Speed “look on you [Valentine], I [Speed] can hardly think you my master” (2. . 30-1). This exchange radiates the idea that Speed sees things that Valentine is unable to as well as the idea that Speed is wiser and more intellectual than his superior, Valentine. The latter part of the scene where Speed claims that Valentine’s lover, Silvia, is actually “not so fair”(2. 1. 51) accentuates both Speed’s expert and knowledgeable as well as Valentine’s increasingly dull and inferior characters. When Valentine questions Speed’s observation of Silvia’s beauty, Speed cleverly notes that “Because Love is blind” (2. 1. 8), Valentine is unable to see the ugliness of Silvia. In this brief exchange, Valentine and Speed play instead, the inferior and superior roles respectively as Speed lectures Valentine on this love-blind issue. Valentine’s aristocratic character is degraded as Speed didactically enlightens Valentine on the effects of love that he is unable to see. It is questionable that because a big portion of Shakespeare’s audience was of middle and lower class, he conveyed a sense of abasement of the upper class in The Two Gentlemen of Verona.
Thus it can be argued that he utilized this theme as a way to provide pleasure for the audience of his work. Nonetheless, through the various exchanges between master and servant, and servant to servant, one can see that the stereotypical roles of the characters are not congruent with their actual characteristics. Lance’s relationship with his dog both parodies Proteus and Julia and allows the theme of role reversal to manifest itself in their unusual relationship.
Lance’s practical list of merits provides a sense of integrity and high intellectual capability for other members of the lower class. The Duke and Valentine suggests a role reversal and finally, Speed’s didactic observation of Valentine’s chronic “love blindness” allows the audience to see the dullness of the upper class and quick wit of lower class. All these examples amalgamate to a reinforced idea that the roles of the upper class and lower class may be reversed and that the upper class are not nearly as intelligent and esteemed as they are perceived to be.