Unlike last month’s title (Love’s Labor’s Lost), there’s not a whole lot of debate or deeper meaning to this month’s title, The Two Gentlemen of Verona. Two Gentlemen (Valentine and Proteus) come from Verona (Italy). All of the first act and about half of the second occur in Verona (though everything after Act Two occurs elsewhere, either in Milan or the forests between Milan and Mantua).
Now about that word, “gentlemen”… the Oxford English Dictionary Second Edition on CD-ROM (v. 4.0) defines “gentleman” as
- A man of gentle birth, or having the same heraldic status as those of gentle birth; properly, one who is entitled to bear arms, though not ranking among the nobility, but also applied to a person of distinction without precise definition of rank.
- A man in whom gentle birth is accompanied by appropriate qualities and behavior; hence, in general, a man of chivalrous instincts and fine feelings.
The first of these two certainly applies to both Valentine and Proteus. The second definition applies only to Valentine (though those who read into Valentine’s response to Proteus’ repentance a sense of offering up Silvia to his friend may feel that he doesn’t live up to the definition, either).
What’s interesting to me, though, is an additional meaning of the word, just beginning to appear in the 1580’s:
- A man of superior position in society, or having the habits of life indicative of this; often, one whose means enable him to live in easy circumstances without engaging in trade, a man of money and leisure.
Maybe this is what Shakespeare really means: this is a story about two men of “easy circumstances” who have no real hardships or responsibilities in life… young men with no sense of meaning or purpose yet… boys in love and lust, who have no idea as to the consequences…