In The Two Gentlemen of Verona, we have two clowns of note, Speed and Launce, the servants of Valentine and Proteus, respectively. These two characters, besides having different “masters,” also have very different types of clownish behavior.
Speed (whose name not only means the modern “quickness,” but also “abundance”, “power, might”, and “success, prosperity” [Oxford English Dictionary Second Edition on CD-ROM (v. 4.0)]), is the kind of clown for whom interaction is crucial; his comedy comes from witty asides and banter.
In his first appearance in the play’s opening scene, he trades quips with Proteus after delivering a letter to Julia’s woman (and thus delaying his arrival at the “harbor” for his master Valentine’s departure to Milan). While this conversation is without asides (as it’s just he and Proteus on stage), there’s no want of wit:
Twenty to one then he is shipped already,
And I have played the sheep in losing him.
Indeed, a sheep doth very often stray,
An if the shepherd be a while away.
It begins simply enough, with a pun by Speed “sheep” for “shipped” … because his master has “shipped” or left, Speed has “played the sheep” and is lost. Proteus agrees, saying that a sheep will often stray when the shepherd’s away. But Speed questions the analogy, and later attempts to prove to Proteus that in actuality it is Speed who is the shepherd and Valentine who is the sheep:
The shepherd seeks the sheep, and not the sheep the shepherd; but I seek my master, and my master seeks not me: therefore I am no sheep.
The sheep for fodder follow the shepherd; the shepherd for food follows not the sheep: thou for wages followest thy master; thy master for wages follows not thee: therefore thou art a sheep.
Such another proof will make me cry 'baa.'
When Proteus answers with a sheep/shepherd analogy of his own, Speed is ready to end the conversation (saying that if Proteus can continue to answer Speed’s theses, then Speed will have to capitulate and admit his sheep-position). But when Proteus instead asks if Speed has delivered his letter to Julia, Speed sees (and seizes upon) another opportunity to extend the livestock metaphor: “Ay sir: I, a lost mutton, gave your letter to her, a laced mutton, and she, a laced mutton, gave me, a lost mutton, nothing for my labor” (I.i.96-98). Again, the clown Speed begins with a pun: “lost mutton” (himself) for “laced mutton” (Julia) … and the key here is connotation of “laced mutton”: a prostitute. And there begins a fairly bawdy exchange; we’ll discuss this to a greater extent later in the month, but suffice to say some of the words used have both clean and not-so-clean meanings (“stick her” … “noddy” … “stones”).
When we next see Speed, he’s in Milan with his master and the two banter on Valentine’s newly found lover status… with Speed perfectly describing a man in love:
you have learned, like Sir Proteus, to wreathe your arms, like a malecontent; to relish a love-song, like a robin-redbreast; to walk alone, like one that had the pestilence; to sigh, like a school-boy that had lost his A B C; to weep, like a young wench that had buried her grandam; to fast, like one that takes diet; to watch like one that fears robbing; to speak puling, like a beggar at Hallowmas. You were wont, when you laughed, to crow like a cock; when you walked, to walk like one of the lions; when you fasted, it was presently after dinner; when you looked sadly, it was for want of money: and now you are metamorphosed with a mistress, that, when I look on you, I can hardly think you my master.
is this a clue to the director that Speed’s entrance should come a few lines earlier than the stage direction (I.i.69 following), so that Speed can hear this line?
It’s a perfect (and perfectly comic) cataloging of love’s outward shows; it’s also interesting that Speed uses the verb “metamorphosed” near the end… it mirrors Proteus’ use of the verb just before their banter of the opening scene (“Julia, thou hast metamorphosed me” [I.i.66]).
In this scene, however, it’s not just Speed’s comical description of Valentine that is the mark of the clown; so, too, is his playful banter with his master:
If you love her, you cannot see her.
Because Love is blind. O, that you had mine eyes; or your own eyes had the lights they were wont to have when you chid at Sir Proteus for going ungartered!
What should I see then?
Your own present folly and her passing deformity: for he, being in love, could not see to garter his hose, and you, being in love, cannot see to put on your hose.
Belike, boy, then, you are in love; for last morning you could not see to wipe my shoes.
True, sir; I was in love with my bed: I thank you, you swinged me for my love, which makes me the bolder to chide you for yours.
Speed teases Valentine, saying his master cannot see his mistress, as “Love is blind,” and if he can see, then he should see his “own present folly and (Silvia’s) passing deformity.” When Valentine attempts to retort that Speed must be in love as well, since he could not see (remember) to wipe Valentine’s shoes yesterday morning, Speed doesn’t miss a beat: he simply responds that Valentine is right–Speed WAS in love… in love with his bed.
When Silvia arrives on the scene, we see Speed move into yet another kind of clownish behavior: the witty aside to the audience commenting on the actions of the other characters on stage. Valentine welcomes her with “a thousand good morrows” (II.i.93-94), and Speed tells us that his welcome is “a million of manners” (II.i.95-96), saying that Valentine’s courtesy (manners) has gone too far, and playing on his master’s use of “thousand.” When Silvia responds with “two thousand” (II.i.97), Speed tells us that Valentine “should give her interest, and she gives it him” (II.i.98-99). Here, he not only plays with language, but sets himself up for the wordplay: Valentine should show Silvia his personal connection to her (interest), but instead she gives him a banker’s interest (increasing his one thousand to two).
Speed appears again at the very beginning of Act Two, Scene Four, with Valentine, Silvia, and Thurio. While his comments to Valentine could be considered asides, they certainly are not to us, nor are they explicitly humorous.
Humorous, however, is exactly how you can describe Speed’s next appearance, in Act Two, Scene Five, when we see the meeting of the play’s two clowns, Speed and Proteus’ servant Launce. As with the first scene, there are no asides here; it’s all interaction between the two clowns. In the scenes that have led us here, Speed has been the comic, playing off others’ words. Now, Speed is put in the position of playing mostly straight man to Launce, feeding him softball questions for Launce to knock out of the comic park. We’ll discuss this scene more later in the month (either when we discuss Launce as clown, or when we dive in the bawdy-pool… not quite sure yet), but here’s an example of the kind of setting-up of Launce’s jokes that Speed is reduced to:
'Tis well that I get it so. But, Launce, how sayest thou, that my master is become a notable lover?
I never knew him otherwise.
A notable lubber, as thou reportest him to be.
Speed refers to Valentine’s new status as a “lover,” but Launce says that he’s always seen him as an oaf, thus playing on what love can do to a man, and punning “lubber” to “lover.”
When we see Speed again, in Act Three, Scene One, he continues to play straight man to Launce, feeding him lines even written by Launce himself, as Proteus’ servant has Speed read his “cate-log” (III.i.271) of his love’s qualities. Again, we’ll discuss this in greater depth later (as it both focuses on Launce, and dives deep into the bawdy)… suffice to say, Speed’s moment of glory as the king clown in this play is long past, as he no longer has the ability to make quips, and now he’s running late to find his newly banished master.
If there is any doubt to the demise of Speed’s comic power, it’s seen in his next–and last–appearance in Act Four, Scene One, where he is captured along with his master by the outlaws, and his only aside is a suggestion to Valentine to become “one of (the outlaws); it’s an honorable kind of thievery” (IV.i.39-40). While the line could be presented in a humorous way, it’s certainly not to us, and the situation makes it deadly serious (as we learn that if Valentine doesn’t become their leader, Valentine “shalt not live to brag what [the outlaws] have offered” [IV.i.70]).
The play opens with a witty Speed, but as he meets and interacts with Launce, Valentine’s servant is no match for the man with the dog, and Speed fades into the wings.
As for Launce, we’ll discuss him in greater depth next week…