The Two Gentlemen of Verona - Notes from the Director
Friends to the End
Do you remember your first "best friend?" Mine was named Caitlin. We met the first day of third grade and were essentially inseparable until she moved away four years later. We wanted to spend every waking moment together. I knew her family as well as I knew my own. Her bedroom was my second home. And there was absolutely nothing I would not have done for her. After she moved, we wrote letters and spoke on the phone regularly for years. It sounds a lot like being in love, doesn't it?
The Two Gentlemen of Verona is a play about friendship. Yes, it is also a love story, but the real love story here is between Proteus and Valentine. And that may be why we have such trouble understanding or accepting it today.
Nowadays we expect this kind of intense friendship primarily in little girls (and sometimes little boys). In Shakespeare's day, however, relationships like this were prevalent in grown men. And I think that is where our confusion with this play lies. Valentine and Proteus are best friends, but not in a buddy-movie kind of way. They love each other – more than they can or will love anyone else, ever – but they are not gay. Julia and Sylvia are the objects of their sexual attraction, the play's "love interests," but when it comes down to a choice, the protocol of Elizabethan friendship insists that Proteus and Valentine should always choose each other. That is how friendship was supposed to work.
Interestingly, in Shakespeare's play it doesn't (no spoiler beyond that). In other words, it is not just contemporary audiences who don't understand the relationships here – even Shakespeare's original audience would have been befuddled by what they saw onstage. The Two Gentlemen of Verona is confusing, not because Elizabethan relationships were so different from what we experience today, but because love is confusing; friendship is confusing; life is confusing. And when all those elements get tangled together, the confusion, and the comedy, grow exponentially.
Most people who know me well know that The Two Gentlemen of Verona is the first Shakespeare play I ever saw. I was seven years old, and yet I understood these characters because they had the same complex feelings as me. Obviously, I was far too young to have fallen in love. But it was only a few months after I saw the play that I first met Caitlin and found the friendship that would anchor most of my childhood.
It was difficult for us to navigate around that anchor. We learned to deal with family rules, bullies at school, long separations for summer camp, and the occasional quarrel. But we did it all together. And that's what makes our story a love story: not that we attended each other's weddings, but that we shared everything that led up to them, just like Valentine and Proteus.
Jemma Alix Levy