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This lesson is part of a unit based on "The Two Gentlemen of Verona". In this lesson we read the end of the play and discuss how Shakespeare leaves matters uncertain and the ways in which different productions might address this uncertainty. Students have seen a production of Montana Shakespeare in the Schools "The Two Gentlemen of Verona" and we base much of our discussion around that specific production.
The build-up to Act V sc. iv is so ridiculous that rather than have the students act it out, we watch some of the clips from the BBC production of The Two Gentlemen of Verona (TV movie 1983). I have a copy from Netflix ready for the students to watch, and the page boy haircuts and purple tights send most everyone into squeals of laughter. Proof that not all aspects of Shakespeare are timeless.
The students laugh appropriately at Sir Eglamour, and then when Proteus finds Julia and corners her there is silence.
Hasn't she told him no already? What more does he need to hear? I pause the video right before the crucial scene and ask the students:
"What does Silvia want?"
"To find Valentine," says one.
"To stay in control," says another.
We agree that Silvia does not want Proteus, and nothing she has said or done in his prescence has indicated otherwise.
"What does Proteus want?" I ask.
"He doesn't know," someone says.
"He thinks he wants Silvia," says another.
Once Proteus has Silvia cornered the students can't believe what's happening. Some even misread the text and think he's taking her captive to send her back to the outlaws.
Either way when Valentine intervenes, there is a mixture of relief and outrage.
We discuss how Proteus lines seem so unnatural after all the eloquent speeches he's given. How is it possible that he could threaten Silvia this way?
And when Valentine does intervene, why is he so calm?
The moment Valentine forgives Proteus there is a collective groan around the room, as though the curtain of illusion has been rent and the students can no longer keep up the pretense.
"How can he- ?"
"What is he thinking?"
We move through all the possible interpretations that Valetine's lines might have.
That he simply cannot reconcile what he has just seen with what he knows about his friend and so he would rather accept Proteus' weak apology rather than live in a new reality; one with out Proteus.
That he can't give up Proteus friendship no matter the cost, and that he would rather 'give' Silvia to Proteus than lose the friendship of his best friend.
Finally, one student in another class had suggested that the line "All that is mine (emphasis added) in Silvia I give to thee", suggests that Silvia might be pregnant and that Valentine wants nothing to do with the child. I ask this class what they think of that interpretation and most agree it has no place in the ending of the novel.
We then look at the rest of the text, and examine Julia's possible interpretation of the line and her fainting spell.
We agree that the Duke's arrival after everything has been decided and tensions cooled, is much better than say a few minutes earlier when Valentine and Proteus were in the heat of an argument.
Some students take issue with the idea that Silvia might live next door to her would be rapist, and it causes me to ask: "What's up with Silvia's silence?"
It's disturbing, more to the girls who think it's a kind of passive protest toward Valentine, Proteus and her father. She doesn't say no, but she doesn't say yes either.