Act Five: The Premature Resolution Episode

Act Five of The Two Gentlemen of Verona is the shortest final act in the Canon (a nice shift from last month’s longest Act Five), at just over half the average number of lines in a final act of Shakespeare.

The act begins with Eglamour waiting for Silvia so that he can help her flee into the forest.  She arrives, but is afraid that she is “attended by some spies” (V.i.10).  Eglamour tells her that if they can make it into the forest (just “three leagues off” [V.i.11]), they’ll be fine.  And off they go.

Act Five, Scene Two begins with Thurio questioning Proteus regarding his wooing of Silvia by proxy. Sebastian (Julia in disguise) takes on the Speed/Launce role of providing cutting commentary in asides until the Duke arrives and asks if anyone has see either Eglamour or Silvia lately.  When none on stage can give a firm answer, the Duke concludes that “she’s fled unto that peasant, Valentine” (V.ii.38).  The Duke vows to follow after her, Thurio agrees (“to be revenged on Eglamour” [V.ii.54]… but why Eglamour?), then Proteus agrees “more of Silvia’s love // Than hate of Eglamour” (V.ii.56-57), and finally Sebastian/Julia (“more to cross (Proteus’) love // Than hate for Silvia that is gone for love” [V.ii.58-59]).

Act Five, Scene Three is a quick one, where Silvia has been captured by the outlaws.  They tell her that they will be taking her to their leader, but all is well; the First Outlaw (remember, he’s the one who seems the most violent) even says, “Fear not; he bears an honorable mind, // And will not use a woman lawlessly” (V.iii.13-14).  But Silvia is still scared:  “O Valentine, this I endure for thee!” (V.iii.15).

The last scene of the act and play is not a long one, but one in which quite a bit happens in the forest.  First, Valentine enters and rhapsodizes on how he has found a true home in the woods, in which he “better brook than in flourishing towns” (V.iv.3).  His only wish is to see his Silvia again.  He hears the outlaws shout… withdraws… and watches

and, in three… two… one…

Silvia enters with both Proteus and Sebastian/Julia.  Proteus, it seems, has “hazard(ed) life and rescue(d her) from him // That would have forced (her) honor and (her) love” (V.iv.21-22).  Valentine cannot believe what he is seeing, as it is “like a dream” (V.iv.26).  Silvia is not thrilled with her rescuer, as she would rather “have been a breakfast to (a lion), // Rather than have false Proteus rescue” her (V.iv.34-35).  In frustration, Proteus threatens to “woo (her) like a soldier, at arm’s end, // And love (her) ‘gainst the nature of love — force (her)” (V.iv.57-58).  Clearly, the morally corrupt Proteus is now willing to resort to rape to get what he wants, and Silvia exclaims, “O heaven!” (V.iv.59).

Valentine comes out from the shadows to challenge his former friend, calling him a “common friend, that’s without faith or love” (V.iv.62).  It’s a short 11-line speech, but it has its effect, as Proteus declares, “My shame and guilt confounds me. // Forgive me, Valentine” (73-74).  And believe it or not, after only a four-and-a-half-line apology, Valentine is “paid. // And once again… receive(s Proteus as) honest” (V.iv.77-78).  Valentine is so willing to let bygones be bygones “that (his) love may appear plain and free, // All that was (Valentine’s) in Silvia (he) gives (to Proteus” (V.iv.82-83).

say whaaaaaa?

Now the line can be interpreted a number of ways (and we’ll play with the possibilities later in the month), but Julia cannot believe what she’s hearing, calls out, “O me unhappy!” (V.iv.84), and faints.  When she awakes, Sebastian/Julia apologizes for not succeeding in delivering Proteus’ ring to Silvia.  Proteus asks to see it, and Julia produces the ring that Proteus had given to Julia back in Verona.

remember that cognitive dissonance we talked about a couple of days back?  well, it’s baaaaack…

When Proteus recognizes the ring, Julia says that she has made a mistake and gives him the OTHER ring, but he still wants to know how she got the first ring.  Sebastian/Julia says, “And Julia herself did give it me; // And Julia herself hath brought it hither” (V.iv.99-100).  Huh?  And at that point, Sebastian reveals herself to be Julia.

Proteus responds to the revelation with a short six-line speech, at the end of which he proclaims his

inconstancy falls of ere it begins.
What is in Silvia's face, but I may spy
More fresh in Julia's with a constant eye?

— V.iv.114-116

So Proteus now wants Julia again, and his friend Valentine, the “general” of the forest’s outlaws, makes like the captain of a ship and calls for “a hand from either … to make this happy close” (V.iv.117-118), which Proteus claims will give him “(his) wish for ever” and Julia hers as well (V.iv.120 and 121, respectively).

The Duke with Thurio enters.  Valentine, like any good leader or host, “welcome(s)” (V.iv.124) the Duke, but when Thurio claims Silvia as his own, Valentine tells him to step back or “embrace (his) death” (V.iv.127).  Upon hearing this, Thurio renounces all claim to Silvia, and the Duke says to Valentine, “Take thou thy Silvia, for thou hast deserved her” (V.iv.148).

[anyone notice that Silva hasn’t said a word since “O heaven!” after Proteus’ threat of rape? … and folks, that was the last we hear from her in the play… weird, huh?]

Valentine thanks the Duke for Silvia, and asks the Duke to pardon the outlaws, a request granted quickly.  Valentine then tells the Duke that as they travel back to Milan, he will have stories to tell the Duke.  But, by the way–of Sebastian/Julia–Valentine asks the Duke,

What think you of this page, my lord?

DUKE
I think the boy hath grace in him; he blushes.

VALENTINE
I warrant you, my lord, more grace than boy.

DUKE
What mean you by that saying?

VALENTINE
Please you, I'll tell you as we pass along,
That you will wonder what hath fortuned.

— V.iv.165-170

It’s a joke to us and Proteus, Julia, and Silvia, who all know who the page is… while the Duke will “wonder” at what has happened.  After all, we feel the same way, especially after hearing that Proteus’ “penance (is) to hear // The story of (these) loves discovered” (V.iv.171-172), after which Proteus can marry Julia on the same day as Valentine marries Silvia.

Ah, the wonder of what has happened… in the last 174 lines of the play:

  • Proteus rescues Silvia from the outlaws
  • Silvia rebuffs Proteus
  • Protest threatens to rape Silvia
  • Valentine reveals himself and reprimands Proteus
  • Proteus repents and apologizes
  • Valentine forgives (to the point of offering Proteus his own love of Silvia)
  • Julia faints, revives, shows Proteus her ring from him, then his ring from her
  • Julia reveals herself
  • Proteus renounces his love for Silvia and is reunited with Julia
  • The Duke and Thurio arrive
  • Thurio attempt to take ownership of Silvia, then renounces his claim to her
  • The Duke gives Silvia to Valentine
  • Valentine requests and receives from the Duke a pardon for the outlaws
  • Valentine announces that the two couples will be married on the same day

There’s enough there to fill a 900 line final scene (like last month’s)… this 174-line scene, however, feels … well, sort of rushed.

But we’ll talk more about that later…

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