The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Valentine and Proteus, are best friends. At the beginning of Shakespeare’s play, they bid each other a loving farewell. Valentine then leaves for Milan to seek his fortune, while Proteus stays behind to woo Julia. When his father orders him to Milan, too, Proteus complies. Before leaving, he and Julia exchange rings as tokens of their mutual love.
The play, now showing at the American Shakespeare Center, intertwines three of C.S. Lewis’ Four Loves: friendship (philia), romance (eros), and family affection (storge). By the end of the play, we witness the fourth: charity—agape.
In Milan, Valentine falls in love with Silvia, as does Proteus when he arrives. But Silvia only returns Valentine’s affections. They plan to elope. Proteus betrays his best friend, and Valentine is banished. In the meantime, Julia disguises herself as a boy and follows Proteus to Milan. There she observes his courtship of Silvia, his betrayal of her love.
Silvia pursues Valentine into the forest followed by Proteus and the disguised Julia. Silvia continues to rebuff Proteus’ advances. When he threatens to “…force thee yield to my desire,” Valentine pops out of the woods, saves Silvia, and denounces Proteus.
Thou common friend, that’s without faith or love,
For such is a friend now; treacherous man!
Thou hast beguiled my hopes; nought but mine eye
Could have persuaded me: now I dare not say
I have one friend alive; thou wouldst disprove me.
Who should be trusted, when one’s own right hand
Is perjured to the bosom? Proteus,
I am sorry I must never trust thee more,
But count the world a stranger for thy sake.
The private wound is deepest: O time most accurst,
‘Mongst all foes that a friend should be the worst!
My shame and guilt confounds me.
Forgive me, Valentine: if hearty sorrow
Be a sufficient ransom for offence,
I tender ‘t here; I do as truly suffer
As e’er I did commit.
Then I am paid;
And once again I do receive thee honest.
Who by repentance is not satisfied
Is nor of heaven nor earth, for these are pleased.
By penitence the Eternal’s wrath’s appeased:
And, that my love may appear plain and free,
All that was mine in Silvia I give thee.
What? Proteus tries to rape Silvia, and Valentine forgives him then offers Silvia to him? I don’t think so. Also, the pacing is off here, too fast, too quick a reversal, especially for Valentine. But this was one of Shakespeare’s early plays, maybe his first.
At any rate, when Julia reveals herself and the rings, Proteus decides he loves her more than Silvia. All is well that ends well. The two couples will wed on the same day, Valentine says, “One feast, one house, one mutual happiness.”
We’ll see. Proteus is the Greek god of sea and rivers, the god of constant and elusive change.
I’ve written previously about forgiveness and referred to Jesus speaking to his disciples in Luke 17:3-4.
3Be on your guard! If [your brother] sins, you must rebuke the offender, and if there is repentance, you must forgive. 4And if the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive.
Seven times seven—Forgiveness is such a challenge and no wonder. It’s related to agape, the love that exists regardless of changing circumstances, the greatest of the four loves, the charitable love of God. What human could match that? Still, it’s a worthy goal, don’t you think?
P.S. My favorite character in the play was Crab, “the sourest-natured dog that lives.” In truth, he was a local shelter dog, a kindly, submissive fellow, looking for a home. Except for one little slip, when he sat and licked himself, Crab was a true gentleman.