Numbers midpoint: Cue Little Steven

Using Professor Rodes’ midpoint theory, let’s take a look at The Two Gentlemen of Verona.

There are 2219 lines in this play, which puts the midpoint at line 1110, which is 92 lines into Act Three, Scene One.

So what is happening at this point in the play?  This is the sequence where the Duke is trying to trap Valentine after Proteus has betrayed his friend; at the midpoint, the Duke tells Valentine that he is trying to woo a women himself, “But she did scorn a present that (he) sent her” (III.i.92).  Valentine responds,

A woman sometimes scorns what best contents her.
Send her another; never give her o'er;
For scorn at first makes after-love the more.
If she do frown, 'tis not in hate of you,
But rather to beget more love in you.
If she do chide, 'tis not to have you gone;
For why, the fools are mad, if left alone.
Take no repulse, whatever she doth say;
For 'get you gone,' she doth not mean 'away!'
Flatter and praise, commend, extol their graces;
Though ne'er so black, say they have angels' faces.
That man that hath a tongue, I say, is no man,
If with his tongue he cannot win a woman.

— III.i.93-105

I find it interesting that in a play with relatively few rhyming couplets (just over 10 percent of this play’s poetry is in rhyme, while last month’s Love’s Labor’s Lost had over 60 percent of its poetry in rhyme), not only is Valentine’s first line of the speech an rhyming answer to the Duke, but the remaining 12 lines of the speech are in rhyming couplets–the longest stretch of rhyme in the play.  Also interestingly? each of the couplets is its own two-line, end-stopped sentence.

So the speech is special in form… what about meaning?

Well, each of those couplets is a piece of advice (or worse, a pontification) on love:

  • give her more gifts; don’t give up
  • she doesn’t hate you, she just wants you to love her more
  • if she rails against you, it’s not to get you to leave: fools go crazy if left alone
  • don’t back down, no matter what she says; she doesn’t want you to go away
  • flatter her no matter what; tell her she’s beautiful even if she’s not
  • if a man is a man, he can sweet-talk any woman

uh, wow…

In this speech, women are made to be wooed and won, like a prize… but ironically, the women still have the power (the power to give themselves to men).  At no point in the speech does Valentine advocate TAKING what women can grant (wonder what this speech would sound like if it came from Proteus?).  And YET, Valentine does state that any man who is a man can “with his tongue win a woman.”  It’s a rather jumbled logic.

But is this a Shakespearean world view?

If it’s a legitimate world view, then we should find some success of this (or at least this type of) advice.

  • Is Julia won by gifts or relentless hectoring?  Not really.  At the beginning of Act One, Scene Two, it seems that Julia has yet to make up her mind on the suitors (as she asks Lucetta for her opinions); and yet, the moment Lucetta takes away the note, Julia want to read it… then immediately after she tears the letter, she’s putting it back together, and kissing and holding Proteus’ name to her bosom.  With this quick growth of love, it’s hard to believe that she’s falls in love with Proteus because of his laying siege to her heart.
  • Certainly, Silvia is not won after a concerted and open campaign by Valentine.  He writes letters for her, to her unknown (to him) lover, in hopes to get into her good graces; what he doesn’t know is that HE himself is the lover, and Silvia has already fallen in love with him.

Since neither female lover is won by the kind of campaign outlined to the Duke by Valentine, we cannot assume that this is a legitimate Shakespearean world view.

So, is this then an ironic view of the folly of love?

It’s ridiculous advice.  Bad on either of two levels:

  • it’s not sound advice to follow but provided benevolently; or
  • it’s consciously bad advice malevolently given to ensure the failure of the lover’s quest (in much the same manner as Proteus destroys Thurio’s wooing of Silvia).

Either way, a man would be foolish to follow the advice.

the most interesting line of the speech comes at the middle of it, when Valentine says “the fools are mad, if left alone”… on a cursory read, the fools seem to be the women… but if this is the case, then it is the women who realize their foolishness–to avoid the “mad”-ness of being left alone, they accept the advances of and give themselves to men… is a fool who realizes she’s a fool still a fool?  or is Shakespeare saying that the man’s the fool… is this whole speech the result of a “mad” mind, one that has been left alone, without the company of women?

The fools here are not the women, but the men… and this, like so many other concepts in the play, foreshadows many of the great romantic comedies to follow in the Canon.

btw, the title of this blog references Little Steven (Steve Van Zandt), a guitarist for Bruce Springsteen’s E Street band, who in the early 1980’s released an album called Men Without Women with his band the Disciples of Soul, the title track of which has the following lyrics:

I worked all day and all night, too.
I just can see enough of you.
But the things men without women do,
Well, you just don't understand.

I went out last night and played the fool.
And I still cry when it's me and you.
The things men without women do,
Well, you just don't understand

I've been on the outside so long;
I don't know how to treat you,
Keep the tear out of your eyes.
It's hard for me to admit that I'm wrong,
'Cause, baby, I never learned to compromise,
I never have learned to apologize.

I do just what I want to do.
And I never will grow up, it's true.
I want everything and I want you, too.
And I wish I could explain to you
That the things men without women do
Well, you just don't understand.
No, baby, you just don't understand.

[Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul: Men Without Women, “Men Without Women”. 1982, EMI America/Capital Records]

kinda fits, no?

Comment?