OK, so as we’ve noted over the past few weeks, the men get a couple of great comic clowns in The Two Gentlemen of Verona in Speed and Launce. So are the women merely the put-upon, threatened, abandoned, and ordered-about pawns of the players and their playwright? Uh, not so much. Buried in Act One is a wonderful bit of physical prop comedy for the actresses playing Julia and Lucetta: the letter scene.
In the midst of their conversation over the relative merits of Julia’s suitors, she ponders,
I would I knew his mind.
Peruse this paper, madam.
[Gives a letter.]
'To Julia.' Say, from whom?
And here we have the introduction of the letter whose existence we were made privy to in the opening scene: Proteus’ letter to Julia, delivered by Speed.
That the contents will show.
Say, say, who gave it thee?
This is a neat little bit of stage direction in the dialogue; without Julia’s demand that Lucetta tell her who sent the letter, Julia would have to open and read the letter, negating what happens in the second half of the scene. Lucetta answers,
Valentine's page; and sent, I think, from Proteus.
He would have given it you; but I, being in the way,
Did in your name receive it: pardon the fault I pray.
The waiting woman admits to receiving it from Speed, under the assumption that it was from Proteus; but since it was Valentine’s page, he didn’t know what Julia looks like, so Lucetta acted as if she was Julia and accepted the letter, for which she asks for pardon (in a nice little rhyming couplet). Julia’s response is interesting; she first says, “Now, by my modesty, a goodly broker!” (I.ii.41). Now, this could be played either sincerely or sarcastically. If sincere, then she must have a change of mind (or heart) before the next line; if sarcastic, then it sets up the next line:
Dare you presume to harbor wanton lines?
To whisper and conspire against my youth?
Now, trust me, 'tis an office of great worth
And you an officer fit for the place.
Or else return no more into my sight.
To plead for love deserves more fee than hate.
Will ye be gone?
That you may ruminate.
Here, Julia’s response is a little overblown: there’s no reason for her to respond so intensely (especially given their previous discussion of the suitors). Lucetts seems to understand this as well, thus her calm response to Julia’s tirade, and her completion of both Julia’s half-line AND of the rhyming couplet that she herself begins.
Once alone, Julia realizes her folly (“I would I had o’erlooked the letter” [I.ii.50]), but she feels “shame to call her back again” (I.ii.551), a victim to “foolish love” (I.ii.57). But she needs to know and calls back Lucetta for seeming small-talk, but she quickly asks, “What is’t that you took up so gingerly?” (I.ii.70).
It is the letter.
Lucetta was supposed to take it away before her exit, and now she’s picking it up. Whaaaaaa??? Obviously, at SOME point, she must drop the letter, only so she can pick it up again. Does she drop it on her way out earlier, obvious to the audience, as in the BBC Collected Works production (reviewed earlier in this month in the podcast)? Does she bring it back on to the stage, perhaps behind her back in her hands, waving it at the audience as she walks around Julia, and then dropping it where Julia will find it? Regardless of how it happens, the letter must get back on stage and down on the ground for Lucetta to pick it back up.
To Julia’s question, Lucetta answers as nimbly as she worked the physical letter:
Why didst thou stoop, then?
To take a paper up that I let fall.
And is that paper nothing?
Nothing concerning me.
Quick witty responses, even with an explicit admission of what’s she’s done (“I let fall”)… Lucetta’s is in control. And her reign continues:
Then let it lie for those that it concerns.
Madam, it will not lie where it concerns,
Unless it have a false interpreter.
is this playful banter, or is Julia so clueless that she believes this is a different letter?
Julia tells Lucetta to then leave it back on the ground; in response, Lucetta plays on Julia’s use of “lie” (lie on the ground) to say that the letter cannot “lie” (tell an untruth) unless it has a false reader. Julia then says, “Some love of yours hath writ to you in rhyme” (I.ii.79).
Lucetta is willing to play along, saying that if it is a rhyme, she could sing it to a tune; she continues by requesting a note (a pun on either a letter in response to go to Proteus [if this is all just playful banter], or a musical note, so that Lucetta can tune her voice to the note so as to sing on key). In turn, Julia responds to only the musical retort, naming “Light o’ Love” (I.ii.83). Lucetta is more than willing to banter along, even riffing on bawdy “burden(s)” (I.ii.85) and social classes (punning “high” [I.ii.87] for both octaves and levels in society).
Julia tires of the banter and wishes to get back to her subject at hand: the letter, saying, “Let’s see your song” (I.ii.88), and taking the letter. Then after taking only a quick look (the following completes the previous half-line), she exclaims, “How now, minion!” (I.ii.88).
guess that answers the question: she’s shocked–shocked, I tellya–that this is same letter…
Julia must also have shrieked the line, as Lucetta comically begins a witty and punning dialog on Julia’s “sharp” then “flat” “tune” (I.ii.92, 94, and 90). Julia then puts an end to the repartee:
This babble shall not henceforth trouble me.
Here is a coil with protestation!
[Tears the letter and throws it down.]
Go get you gone, and let the papers lie:
You would be fingering them, to anger me.
She makes it strange; but she would be best pleased
To be so anger'd with another letter.
She tears the letter, but Lucetta realizes that the lady doth protest too much, telling us (note the use of “she” instead of “you”… but not necessarily an aside as we’ll see) that Julia would be “best pleased…with another letter.”
Alone, Julia agrees with Lucetta (thus negating the possibility that the previous two-line speech is a pure aside), and then kicks off her speech with pure Shakespearean oppositional logic: hateful/loving, injurious wasps/sweet honey. And then she hits the meat of the speech, filled with internal stage direction
I'll kiss each several paper for amends.
Look, here is writ 'kind Julia.' Unkind Julia!
As in revenge of thy ingratitude,
I throw thy name against the bruising stones,
Trampling contemptuously on thy disdain.
And here is writ 'love-wounded Proteus.'
Poor wounded name! my bosom as a bed
Shall lodge thee till thy wound be thoroughly healed,
And thus I search it with a sovereign kiss.
But twice or thrice was 'Proteus' written down.
Be calm, good wind, blow not a word away
Till I have found each letter in the letter,
Except mine own name: that some whirlwind bear
Unto a ragged fearful-hanging rock
And throw it thence into the raging sea!
Lo, here in one line is his name twice writ,
'Poor forlorn Proteus, passionate Proteus,
To the sweet Julia:' that I'll tear away--
And yet I will not, sith so prettily
He couples it to his complaining names.
Thus will I fold them one on another--
Now kiss, embrace, contend, do what you will.
alternatively, she may pick up the pieces and go through them, one by one, keeping the ones with Proteus’s name–tucked into her bodice (“bosom”), perhaps–but discarding the ones with her name on them, maybe even jumping on them or squashing them under foot… finally, folding the pieces without her name together and tucking them away, hidden from view
She says that she’ll “kiss each several” (separate) piece of the letter for forgiveness; here, the kissing may be both physical from her lips to the papers, and between the pieces of paper, as she puts them together to read the message. When she finds her name written on one piece, she “throw(s it) against the bruising stones,” and here we see that she is on the ground putting the pieces together like a jigsaw puzzle on the stone tile-paved floor. When she finds one with “Proteus” written on it, she might hold it to her breast then kiss it then put it down (“search it”) as another piece in her puzzle. A breeze might then pick up and some of the pieces may scatter (“be calm, good wind”) for more comic effect. She continues to go through the pieces, tearing her name from his when she finds it, but piecing them together, allowing them to “kiss, embrace,” and become a single whole letter again…. only to stand up quickly and walk away as Lucetta re-enters.
When Lucetta does come back and Julia wants to leave a little too quickly, she asks, “What, shall these papers lie like tell-tales here?” (I.ii.133); yes, the pieces have told a tale to Lucetta, who knows EXACTLY what has happened. Julia responds, “If you respect them, best to take them up” (I.ii.134). It’s an interesting response, depending on how the letter-reading sequence is played: if the entire letter is on the ground, it’s almost a request that Lucetta pick them up; if only the pieces with Julia’s name on them are on the ground, then the meaning is slightly shifted to a testing of respect. Regardless of the meaning, Lucetta picks up the pieces, though not until she has reminded her mistress that she was right all along (“Nay, I was taken up for laying them down” [I.ii.135]). When Lucetta picks up the pieces, Julia says, “I see you have a month’s mind to them” (I.ii.137). Now, last week, we discussed this phrase, and the more I look at it, the more I think that it does refer to a woman’s monthly cycle (but that’s just me). Lucetta agrees, but warns her mistress wittily, “Ay, madam, you may say what sights you see; // I see things too, although you judge I wink” (I.ii.138-139). Julia can deny to Lucetta all her feelings, but Lucetta sees through her.
And so do we… it’s as plain as the writing on a letter.