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This lesson is part of a larger unit on "The Two Gentlemen of Verona". Students focus on making connections to text and to use developed reading strategies to identify character motivations and specific language techniques Shakespeare employs.
We begin reading the play by reading the play. Two students have volunteered to be Valentine and Proteus, two students who, like the characters, are best friends.
They read the lines haltingly at first, but after about ten or fifteen minutes the iambic pentameter warms them up and the words they are comfortable with begin to roll off their tongues. The student who plays Valentine even tries to memorize his lines and add extra emphasis.
When Valentine leaves the stage in the middle of the scene I pause the students and ask them, "Who has the power? Who in this friendship seems to have the most control over the other?"
The students agree it's pretty obvious Valentine does. We talk about the way Shakespeare starts the play in the middle of the conversation, and guess what's been happening before the play started.
Did Valentine wait until the last minute to tell Proteus he was leaving? Did Proteus wait until the last minute to persuade Valentine to stay? Or is this an ongoing argument that has finally run out of time?
Each scenario changes the way we look at those opening lines, but does not change the power that Valentine has over Proteus.
The next half of this scene gets a little silly, and sadly, Shakespeare's wit and humor are a little past their expiration date in this play. The verbal volleys between master and servant are a little arcane, and not all that funny. Although the students do get the pun Speed makes about sheep and shepherds, they do not think it's funny. This is a good place to talk to students about humor and context. That some humor is funny because of the time and place it occurs in. This is especially true for this particular scene which would have seemed very funny to Elizabethan audiences but not to us.
They do think the subtle and not so subtle hints Speed makes to Proteus about getting paid are funny.
I briefly ask them to think about why Proteus uses Valentine's servant instead of his own, and they rightly understand that it's because he's trying to be sneaky.
The final scene we start is the one that introduces Julia. Julia is a prototype for Rosalind and Viola, two of Shakespeare's strongest and most memorable comediennes. The students saw As You Like It two years ago, so they are able to relate Julia to Rosalind. Although as we first meet Julia, they don't think she has much potential for heroinism.
After getting to the part of the scene where Julia tells Lucetta to leave, we pause and compare Julia and Lucetta's master servant relationship with Proteus and Speed.
We agree that Julia treats Lucetta more like a confidant than a servant, but that she is also more harsh with her.