I recently re-read Shakespeare’s “Two Gentlemen of Verona”, and friends, I had quite forgotten just how not good the end of that play is. I mean, obviously Shakespeare is not short of problematic moments, but “Two Gentlemen” is really somethin’. (It’s also crap from a dramatic standpoint, but hey, it was his first play.) Anyway, for anyone who doesn’t remember the ending or everything preceding it, here is a summary:
Proteus and Valentine are friends with a lot of bro energy. Proteus is in love with Julia and Valentine thinks love is stupid, a philosophical position he will surely continue to hold for the rest of his life. Valentine leaves Verona to go to Milan, where he immediately falls in love with the Duke of Milan’s daughter, Sylvia.
Sylvia, for her part, is into it. Meanwhile, it’s decided that Proteus will also go to Milan. He and Julia are sad to be separated, but they exchange rings as a symbol of how their love is true and how Proteus specifically will never fall in love with someone else and betray everyone he ever professed to care about in the process, and I expect you can see where this is going.
Proteus meets up with Valentine in Milan and immediately also falls in love with Sylvia, whoops. Valentine explains that he and Sylvia are in love but she’s promised by the Duke to some other schmuck, Thurio. Proteus, in an immediate heel turn, comes up with a plan for Valentine to run away with Sylvia under cover of night; he then goes straight to the Duke and tells him of Valentine’s plan. The Duke catches Valentine in the act and banishes him. Proteus assumes this is his big chance to woo Sylvia himself but she quite obviously cannot fucking stand him, sees through his bullshit, and has zero patience with him, all of which is delightful.
The exiled Valentine gets ambushed by a band of hapless outlaws who recruit him to be their leader because he is handsome and well-spoken, and they are all ugly and dumb and need a more charismatic frontperson. Somewhere in the middle of all that Julia decides to dress up as a man (since a woman traveling alone would definitely get assaulted) and head to Milan to be with Proteus. She finds him and discovers he’s in love with Sylvia now; for some reason he doesn’t recognize her in her boy drag (maybe she is wearing glasses, which we all know is an impenetrable disguise), and he recruits her to help woo Sylvia by proxy, since doing it in person requires Sylvia seeing his face, and given that she hates his fucking face, this does not help his cause. He gives boy-Julia the ring he received from girl-Julia to give to Sylvia. Julia agrees to this because why?? Have some self-respect, girl! Stuff that ring down his stupid throat!!
She goes to Sylvia and half-heartedly presents her with the ring; Sylvia, quickly intuiting that the ring was a gift from another woman, gives it back and is somehow even more disgusted with Proteus than before. Proteus tries one more last-ditch plan, telling Sylvia that he hears Valentine is dead; she’s like, whether he is or not, fuck off. Ultimately, Sylvia can only find so much fulfillment throwing sass at Proteus either in person or via messenger, and recruits Eglamour, an eager-to-please gentleman, to help her run away. He agrees to do so and swears to protect her with his life. Unfortunately, they are waylaid by the aforementioned group of outlaws and Eglamour immediately abandons her and runs away in what would probably have been an extremely comical scene if Shakespeare had seen fit to include it, rather than mentioning it as a thing that happened offstage. The outlaws prepare to bring Sylvia to their new leader, who, you will recall, is Valentine. Proteus, however, has heard from the Duke about Sylvia’s flight, and he is chasing after her, with boy-Julia still tagging along. They intercept her and get her away from the outlaws somehow (offstage, of course), and Proteus tries one more time to convince Sylvia that, seriously, he’s a great catch, what’s the problem here? She is still not into it at all, and then this happens:
Nay, if the gentle spirit of moving words
Can no way change you to a milder form,
I’ll woo you like a soldier, at arms’ end,
And love you ‘gainst the nature of love–force you.
[He seizes her.]
I’ll force thee yield to my desire.
So … yeah. Luckily Valentine is nearby.
Ruffian, let go that rude uncivil touch,
Thou friend of an ill fashion.
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 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 accursed,
‘Mongst all foes that a friend should be the worst!
Now, up to this moment, the play *could* still be saved. But then it goes completely off the rails, as the following all happens in quick succession: Proteus says, “Oh, man, sorry, I feel really bad about that”; Valentine immediately forgives him completely and then OFFERS SYLVIA TO HIM as if she were just an object (rather than a human being with feelings and autonomy and whatnot) to show there are NO HARD FEELINGS; Julia apologizes for doing a bad job of wooing Sylvia on Proteus’s behalf but then accidentally gives him back the wrong ring and ends up revealing her identity; Proteus is like, huh, maybe I should stick with the person who is enough of a doormat to help me court another woman, and he and Julia reconcile; the Duke shows up and un-exiles Valentine; some other wrapping-up business happens and everyone lives happily ever after!!!
I’m sorry, but this is bullshit. Proteus’s actions are unforgiveable. So that’s why I decided to fix the final scene of the play with some judicious cuts. This updated ending does not add, rearrange, or reassign any dialogue; I’ve just inserted some stage directions and adjusted the punctuation. Here it is:
[The Duke has entered, unobserved.]
My shame and guilt confounds me.
Forgive me, Valentine. If hearty sorrow
Be a sufficient ransom for offense,
I tender ‘t here. I do as truly suffer
As e’er I did commit.
I am not satisfied, nor heaven, nor Earth.
O me unhappy! Here!
[She hands him a ring.]
Why, this is the ring I gave to Julia.
But how cam’st thou by this ring? At my depart
I gave this unto Julia.
And Julia herself did give it me,
And Julia herself hath brought it hither.
[She reveals herself.]
Behold her that gave aim to all thy oaths
And entertained ’em deeply in her heart.
How oft hast thou with perjury cleft the root!
O, Proteus, blush. Be thou ashamed,
If shame live in men.
‘Tis true. O heaven!
[drawing his sword]
‘Twere pity friends be foes. Embrace thy death;
Come not within the measure of my wrath.
Once again, I dare thee but to breathe!
[The Duke reveals himself. Valentine puts away his sword.]
Now, by the honor of my ancestry,
I do applaud thy spirit, Valentine,
And think thee worthy of an empress’ love.
Know, then, I here forget all former griefs,
Cancel all grudge, repeal thee home again,
Plead a new state in thy unrivaled merit,
To which I thus subscribe: Sir Valentine,
Thou art a gentleman, and well derived;
Take thou thy Sylvia, for thou hast deserved her.
I thank your Grace, the gift hath made me happy.
I now beseech you, for your daughter’s sake,
To grant one boon that I shall ask of you.
I grant whate’er it be.
‘Tis your penance but to hear of happiness.
[They exit, leaving Proteus alone.]
(For anyone interested, here is a version with visible edits.)