David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s THE TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA: A Retelling in Prose — Cast of Characters and Act 1 Scene 1


Duke of Milan, father to Silvia.

Valentine, Proteus, the two gentlemen of Verona.

Antonio, father to Proteus.

Thurio, a foolish rival to Valentine.

Eglamour, agent for Silvia in her escape.

Host, at whose establishment Julia lodges in Milan.

Outlaws, with Valentine.

Speed, a quick-witted young page to Valentine.

Launce, a servant to Proteus.

Panthino, a servant to Antonio.

Julia, who loves Proteus.

Silvia, who loves Valentine.

Lucetta, a waiting-woman to Julia.

Servants, Musicians.

Crab, dog to Launce.

Scene: Verona; Milan; and a forest.

The name VALENTINE is associated with true love.

PROTEUS was a sea-god who was a shape-shifter. In Homer’s Odyssey, Odysseus captures PROTEUS and holds on to him although he changes into many shapes. PROTEUS then gives Odysseus the information he asks for. PROTEUS is a name that is associated with fickleness in love.

— 1.1 —

In Verona, Valentine and Proteus were talking together. They were friends, but they would be separated because Valentine was leaving Verona to travel to Milan. Proteus was staying in Verona because he had fallen in love with Julia and wanted to be with her.

“Stop trying to persuade me to stay in Verona, my lovesick friend Proteus,” Valentine said. “Home-staying youth always have homely — simple and dull — wits. If it were not the case that your affectionate love chains your tender and youthful days to the sweet glances of your honored love, I would rather have your company as I see the wonders of the world abroad than for you to live dully and like a sluggard at home and wear out your youth with aimless idleness. But since you are in love, love continually and thrive therein, just like I will when I begin to love.”

“Will you be gone? Do you still intend to travel?” Proteus asked. “Sweet Valentine, adieu! Think about your Proteus, when you happen to see some rare and noteworthy object during your travel. Wish that I could partake in your happiness when you meet with good fortune, and when you are in danger, if ever danger comes to you, commend your grievance to my holy prayers, for I will be your beadsman, Valentine. Like a beadsman, I will pray for you.”

A beadsman is paid to pray for another person. The beadsman prays on a Bible.

“Will you pray on a love-book for my success?” Valentine asked. “Will you pray on a book of love stories?”

“Upon some book I love, I will pray for you.”

“Some book you love? That will be a book that tells some shallow story of deep love — for example, how young Leander crossed the Hellespont.”

Leander was a young man who loved a woman named Hero. He was accustomed to swim across the Hellespont each night so that he could be with her.

“That’s a deep story of a deeper love,” Proteus said. “For he was more than over shoes in love.”

Yes, Leander was deeply immersed in love — he was over his shoes in love. He was also deeply immersed in water. One night when he was swimming in the Hellespont to visit Hero, he drowned.

“Yes, that is true, and what I said about you and love is true,” Valentine said. “You yourself are over boots in love, and yet you have never swum the Hellespont.”

“Over the boots? No, do not give me the boots.”

Proteus was referring to a game played in Warwickshire; the loser had his buttocks slapped with a pair of boots. The expression “Don’t give me the boots” came to mean “Don’t make me a laughingstock.”

“No, I will not give you the boots,” Valentine said, “for it will not boot — profit — you.”

“What do you mean by ‘it’?”

“By ‘it,’ I mean your being in love. When you are in love, your groans buy you scorn. When you are in love, heart-sore sighs buy you disdainful looks. When you are in love, twenty wakeful, weary, tedious nights buy you one fading moment’s mirth. If with luck you win your love, perhaps what you win will be unlucky. If you fail to win your love, then you have won only a grievous labor — sorrow and work. Whatever the outcome, this is all you get: Intelligence buys foolishness, or else foolishness vanquishes intelligence.”

“So, by your speech and based on circumstantial evidence, I guess that you are calling me a fool,” Proteus said.

“So, because of your circumstances and your situation, I fear you’ll prove to be a fool,” Valentine said.

“It is Love you have an argument with,” Proteus said. “I am not Love.”

Love is the winged and blindfolded god Cupid, son of Venus.

“Love is your master, for he masters you,” Valentine replied. “And a man who is in that way yoked by a fool, I think, should not be recorded in the history books as a wise man.”

“Yet writers say, just like the eating caterpillar dwells in the sweetest bud, so eating love dwells in the finest wits of all,” Proteus said.

“And writers say, just like the most promising bud is eaten by the caterpillar before the bud blooms, the young and tender wit is turned to foolishness by love. The young and tender wit is withered in the bud and loses its freshness and vitality even in the springtime. It also loses all the fair effects of future hopes.

“But why am I wasting time to give advice to you, who are a worshipper of foolish desire?

“Once more adieu! My father is at the harbor waiting for me. He wants to see me set out on my voyage.”

“And thither I will accompany you, Valentine.”

“Sweet Proteus, no; let us now take our leave of each other. Send letters to me in Milan and let me hear from you about your fortunes — good or bad — in love, and tell me what other news happens here while I, your friend, am absent. Likewise, I will send letters to you here in Verona.”

“May all happiness happen to you in Milan!” Proteus said.

“And may you experience all happiness here at home!” Valentine said. “And so, farewell.”

They hugged, and then Valentine set off to walk to the harbor.

Alone, Proteus said, “He hunts honor, and I hunt love. He leaves his friends to dignify and honor them more by acquiring a better reputation for himself in the world, while I leave myself, my friends and all else, for love.

“You, Julia, have metamorphosed me. You have made me neglect my studies, waste my time, war against good advice, and value the world at nothing. You have made my intelligence weak because I keep musing about you, and you have made my heart sick because I keep thinking about you.”

Speed, who was Valentine’s quick-witted servant, walked over to Proteus, for whom he had delivered a letter and from whom he hoped to receive a large tip — certainly more than sixpence.

“Sir Proteus, may God save you!” Speed said. “Have you seen my master, Valentine?”

“Just now he departed from here to get on board ship and travel to Milan.”

“Twenty to one then the ship has sailed already, and I have played the sheep in losing him.”

“Indeed, a sheep very often strays, if the shepherd is away for a while.”

“You conclude that my master is a shepherd, then, and I am a sheep?” Speed asked.

“I do.”

“Why then, my horns are his horns, whether I wake or sleep.”

Sheep have horns, and cuckolds — men with unfaithful wives — are said to have horns. Since neither Valentine nor Speed was married, Speed was saying that he and Valentine would in the future have horns.

Speed was also alluding to a nursery rhyme:

Little Boy Blue,

Come blow your horn,

The sheep’s in the meadow,

The cow’s in the corn;

But where is the boy

Who looks after the sheep?

He’s under a haystack,

He’s fast asleep.

Will you wake him?

Oh no, not I,

For if I do

He will surely cry.

Proteus said, “That is a silly answer and well suited to a sheep.”

“This proves then that I am still a sheep?”

“That is true, and it proves that your master is a shepherd.”

“No,” Speed said. “I can make an argument that this is not true.”

“Things shall go poorly for me unless I can prove that the statement is true by another argument,” Proteus said.

“The shepherd seeks the sheep, and the sheep does not seek the shepherd,” Speed said, “but I seek my master, and my master does not seek me; therefore, I am no sheep.”

“The sheep follows the shepherd in order to get fodder,” Proteus counter-argued. The shepherd does not follow the sheep in order to get food. You follow your master in order to get wages; your master does not follow you in order to get wages; and therefore you are a sheep.”

“Such another proof will make me cry ‘baa,’” Speed said. “Or should I cry ‘bah’?”

“Listen,” Proteus said. “Did you give my letter to Julia?”

“Yes sir,” Speed said. “I, a lost mutton, gave your letter to her, who is a laced mutton, and she, a laced mutton, gave me, a lost mutton, nothing for my labor.”

A mutton is a woman — often a prostitute. A laced mutton is a woman wearing fancy clothing.

“Here’s too small a pasture for such a store of muttons,” Proteus said.

“If the ground is overcharged — overfull — with mutton, you had best stick her.”

To stick a mutton could mean to kill a sheep by stabbing it with a knife, or it could mean to have sex with a mutton — a woman.

“No, when you say that, you go astray, and it would be best for me to pound you,” Proteus said.

He thought, Because of what you just said, I should give you a beating — I should use my fists to pound you.

Speed had run an errand for Proteus, and he wanted a good tip for running the errand. He preferred to get the tip quickly — before answering a lot of questions. The information he had to give to Proteus was not what Proteus wanted to hear and would result in either a small tip or no tip.

“A pound?” Speed said. “No, a pound is too much money to pay me for running this errand. “Less than a pound shall be a good tip for me for carrying your letter.”

Speed wanted a good tip, but he knew better than to be greedy. He knew that there was no way he would receive a pound as a tip from Proteus.

“You mistake my meaning,” Proteus said, setting up another pun. “I mean that I should impound you — I should put you in a pinfold, an enclosure — a pound — for stray animals.”

“You have gone from a pound, which is a good tip, to a pin, which is a worthless tip,” Speed said. “Fold it over and over, and it is threefold too little for carrying a letter to your lover.”

Again, Speed was punning. A pound — paper money — can be folded, but a fold is also an enclosure for sheep.

“What did she say to you when you delivered my letter to her?” Proteus asked.

Speed nodded.

Proteus gave Speed a questioning look, and Speed said, “Ay.”

“Nod, followed by ‘ay’ — why, that’s ‘noddy,’” Proteus said. “A noddy is a fool.”

“You mistook my meaning, sir,” Speed said. “I indicated that she nodded, and you asked me if she nodded, and I said, ‘Ay.’”

“And set together they make nod-ay, aka noddy.”

“Now that you have taken the pains to set it together, take the word for your pains,” Speed said. “You are a noddy.”

“No, no; you shall have the word ‘noddy’ as payment for your pains in bearing the letter,” Proteus said.

“Well, I see that I must be obliged to bear with you,” Speed said.

One meaning of “to bear with” is “to put up with.”

“Why, sir, how do you bear with me?”

“I really did bear the letter very orderly; I have followed your orders, and yet I have nothing but the word ‘noddy’ for my pains.”

“Curse me, but you have a quick wit,” Proteus said.

“And yet it cannot overtake your slow purse.”

“Come, come, open up and tell me what I want to know quickly. What did she say?”

“Open your purse so that the money and the information you want may be both at once quickly delivered.”

Proteus gave Speed a sixpence — a smaller tip than Speed was hoping for — and said, “Well, sir, this is for your pains. What did she say?”

“Truly, sir, I think you’ll hardly win her.”

“Why, could you perceive so much from her?”

“Sir, I could perceive nothing at all from her; no, not so much as a ducat for delivering your letter,” Speed said.

Actually, he could not perceive anything at all from Julia because he had not seen her; he had given the letter to Lucetta, Julia’s waiting-woman. Because Speed was annoyed with Proteus, he was making things up.

“All I was looking for from her was a tip, and I could not perceive one. Because she was so hard to me who brought her your letter, which revealed what is on your mind, I fear she’ll prove to be as hard to you when you talk to her in person. Give her no gift but stones because she’s as hard as steel.”

Stones can be precious jewels — or family jewels.

“What did she say?” Proteus asked. “Nothing?”

“No, not so much as ‘Take this for your pains,’” Speed said. “I can testify about how you tip. I thank you because you have given me a testern, a sixpence, and therefore you have testerned me. In response to such a tip, I shall let you hereafter carry your own letters and deliver them yourself. And so, sir, I’ll leave now and give my master your greetings.”

“Go, go, be gone, and save your ship from shipwreck,” Proteus said. “The ship cannot wreck and perish with you onboard because you are destined to die a drier death on shore. You are destined to hang and so you shall never be drowned.”

Speed exited.

Alone, Proteus said to himself, “I must use a better messenger than Speed. I fear my Julia will not willingly accept my letters when they are delivered by such a worthless postman.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved




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