Date: Between 1589 and 1592.
First read: In 200…5, I think? At some point in my early 20s I read my Arden Complete Works cover to cover. Then I re-read it in 2011 when I worked on a couple of scenes from it at Mountview.
Productions seen: None – just that couple of scenes at drama school.
Productions worked on: As above.
Edition I’m using: Good old Dover Thrift.
- I read the play aloud with Mark and Flavia. We noticed that the locations weren’t consistent across the editions – sometimes one of us had Milano and another Verona, sometimes one had Mantua and another Padua. I wish we’d actually noted the differences, but we didn’t… What I can tell you is that I was using the Dover Thrift pictured above, Mark had the Arden Complete Works and Flavia was using the text from shakespeare.mit.edu. Who knows where we were? All we know is that you’re unlikely to miss the tide in any of them. In your face, Oxfordians.
- While this may or may not be Shakespeare’s first play, it definitely feels early. Not just because of the structural oddities and somewhat underdone characterisation, but because it’s packed with ideas and lines that turn up again in fuller form elsewhere in the canon – the business with the rings, the girl disguised as a boy, the fleeing lovers pursued into the forest, rope ladders a-go-go, even some shady friar with a familiar name doing penance for unspecified sins wandering the woods.
- Between this and Romeo & Juliet, I get the impression that Elizabethan Mantua was quite the hive of scum and villainy.
- Holy excessive wordplay, Batman! I’d forgotten how crazy the first few scenes are. It’s a much funnier play than I remembered, but the comedy sits oddly alongside the darkness of Proteus’ journey – to my mind, at least. I know that time changes the way we receive things and that humour changes over the years (the treatment of Malvolio in Twelfth Night, for example, strikes my 21st century sensibilities as ridiculously harsh). However, I struggle to believe that Proteus and Valentine’s reconciliation after the attempted (or at least considered) rape of Silvia is anything other than a rushed ending. It’s an extremely swift wrap-up, and a bit frustrating – Proteus comes across as a budding villain, and a very interesting one at that, yet the moment he’s challenged he does a swift volt-face, apologises and is forgiven. There’s the quality of mercy not only is not strained, it seems to gush from both Valentine and Julia in an unstoppable, ill-advised torrent. Then again, I suppose the same swiftness turns up in things like Measure for Measure, so perhaps it’s more a question of my expectations concerning ambiguous endings.
- Having recently worked on Coriolanus, I found my attention caught by Proteus’ line in Act II Scene IV, “Even as one heat another heat expels/Or as one nail by strength drives out another/So the remembrance of my former love/Is by a newer object quite forgotten”. Check out one of my favourite lines of Aufidius’ from Act IV Scene VII – “One fire drives out one fire: one nail, one nail/Rights by rights falter: strengths by strengths do fail./Come, let’s away. When, Caius, Rome is thine/Thou art the poor’st of all: then shortly art thou mine.”
I’m trying not to get too wrapped up in comparing the plays at this stage, since the point is to see what observations are prompted by reading them in this order, so this isn’t a particularly long post. Expect them to increase in length and depth as we continue, and also as I get a sense of what kind of conversations might come up here.
Did you read along? Is there anything you’d like to say about this play? Any point I’ve made that you disagree with? Comments are open (they’re moderated, which is sadly necessary for personal reasons, but I’ve no plans to do anything other than approve all contributions to the discussion).