Proteus loves Julia in Verona, Valentine loves Silvia in Milan. But when Proteus meets Silvia, he falls for her too, and the heartbroken Julia sets out in pursuit.
This delightful and sometimes disquieting early comedy of love lost and found offers lyrical poetry, disguise, clowning, outlaws, and a most unreliable dog.
Proteus is played by Michael Maloney and Valentine by Damian Lewis. Silvia is Saskia Wickham, Julia is Lucy Robinson, and John Woodvine plays Launce.
Public Domain (P)2014 Blackstone Audio
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It's been a major treat finally having the Arkangel Shakespeare available on Audible - almost as good as finally getting the Beatles on iTunes. This remarkable series of recordings includes every play Shakespeare wrote, in a full-court-press audio production with sound effects and an original score. The series is 10-15 years old at this point, but it holds up magnificently.
"The Two Gentlemen of Verona" is not one of Shakespeare's best. My own private theory is that it was his first play, written before he even left Stratford. Most of the scenes involve only two people; the famous (or infamous) last scene leaves one character, Sylvia, mute for the last 10 minutes. The turning point of the play is completely unbelievable. The puns, some of them tedious to begin with, go on forever, and there's a surprising carelessness about place names. It's definitely prentice work.
On the other hand, the play has the servant Launce and his dog Crab. Launce is played here by the brilliant John Woodvine: if you're old enough, you may remember him as the evil uncle from the sprawling stage production of "Nicholas Nickleby." Launce is dumb as a post, but not so dumb that he can't see that his master, Proteus, is a scoundrel. Proteus is played by Michael Maloney (who did a brilliant turn as the Dauphin in Branagh's "Henry V"); he tries to betray the love interest of his best friend, Valentine, played by Damian Lewis (quite a change from his more recent incarnation on "Homeland"). In fact, one of the pleasures to be had from the series is recognizing the voices of actors who are better-known in other contexts.
The music for all of the Arkangel productions is composed by Dominique Le Gendre. The score sounds like the kind of jazzy, smoky music you'd hear in the background at a candlelit dinner. Usually it works, but the one criticism I have of the production is that his version of "Who is Sylvia?" misses the mark, with an overly complex melody that doesn't quite fit the pace of the lyrics. It's a rare misstep in the series.
If you're going for the Shakespeare highlights, you can give this one a pass. But if you're determined to do the whole canon, it's well worth your while: if nothing else, there's always Crab.
"For truth hath better deeds than words to grace it"
"That man that hath a tongue, I say is no man,
If with his tongue he cannot win a woman.
William Shakespeare, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Act III, Scene I
The first play in my 2017 First Folio journey is 'The Two Gentlemen of Verona'. The Bard is often held up as a genius when writing about human nature. This, his first play, has its moments and certainly its characters, but the ending especially shows that Shakespeare's brilliance came line-upon-line and not all at once. The ending seemed too much like a clip-on bow tie: too balanced, too perfect, too forgiving, too fake. It didn't ring true.
That said, the play isn't a complete disaster. This comedy of love did provide us with a cross-dressing Julia (Shakespeare will return to this), and servants that are often wiser than their masters. Speed and Launce were especially nice characters.
There were also several nice lines, specifically:
- "Fire that's closest kept burns most of all."
- "Till I have found each letter in the letter."
- "To her whose worth makes other worthies nothing."
- "Love, lend me wings to make my purpose swift,
As thou has lent me wit to pot this drift."
"Chapter divisions & headings"
Rather than a division into chapters, a division based on the scenes of the play would have been much more user/listener friendly...
Also would have been very helpful to have the act and scene numbers - rather than the chapter number - appear in the banner heading....
"This is well done"
None are so blind as those who think they are in love when they are only the fools of Eros. Shakespeare helps all find true love in this delightful comedy. . . the play is well acted and the direction keeps the lines moving and the comedy flowing. I do miss seeing the dog.
"Great but for two faults"
The pronunciation of Milan was odd. And I suppose jazz helps to improve the play for modern audiences. It would otherwise be old and boring?
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