Having just read aloud Shakespeare’s The Two Gentlemen of Verona, I want to see if I can see God in it, or at least the three parts of humanity, made in God’s image. Julia must be the heart, Sylvia the mind, and Proteus the body. Valentine could also be a heart (duh), but Julia’s is nobler.
Proteus is the body out of order (heart should come before mind and body) because he is directed by his earthly senses. His rationale for betraying his lady, Julia, and his best friend, Valentine, is thus:
“Julia I lose and Valentine I lose.
If I keep them, I needs must lose myself;
If I lose them, thus find I by their loss:
For Valentine, myself; for Julia, Silvia.
I to myself am dearer than a friend,
For love is still most precious in itself,
And Silvia – witness heaven that made her fair! –
Shows Julia but a swarthy Ethiope.
…I cannot now prove constant to myself
Without some treachery used to Valentine.”
His sense of self is his love of Sylvia’s superiority. He wants the greater good, but on sensual terms.
Sylvia is guided by her mind and her conscience. She rejects Proteus mostly on ideological grounds:
“Thou subtle, perjured, false, disloyal man!
Think’st thou I am so shallow, so conceitless,
To be seduced by thy flattery,
That has deceived so many with thy vows?
Return, return, and make thy love amends.
For me, by this pale queen of night I swear,
I am so far from granting thy request
That I despise thee for thy wrongful suit,
And by and by intend to chide myself
Even for this time I spend in talking to thee.”
Julia, the jilted lover, remains faithful despite Proteus’ lack of regard for her. She says when betraying her own happiness, showing her higher sense of self than his, wanting greater than sensory, even emotional true to selfness – constant, though unrequited love (love that is not ruled by the body or the mind) when Proteus believes her to be a page and asks her to deliver a ring to Sylvia:
“How many women would do such a message?
Alas, poor Proteus, thou hast entertained
A fox to be the shepherd of thy lambs!
Alas, poor fool, why do I pity him
That with his very heart despiseth me?
Because he loves her, he despiseth me; (Eponine, anyone?)
Because I love him, I must pity him.
This ring I gave him when he parted from me
To bind him to remember my good will;
And now am I, unhappy messenger,
To plead for that which I would not obtain,
To carry that which I would have refused,
To praise his faith which I would have dispraised.
I am my master’s true confirmed love,
But cannot be true servant to my master
Unless I prove false traitor to myself.
Yet will I woo for him, but yet so coldly
As, heaven it knows, I would not have him speed.”
However she ends up being honest with Sylvia, so it is satisfying. It is unsatisfying when the martyr thing goes too far. Speaking of that, I’m not sure why at the end (biggest spoiler) when Proteus apologizes, Valentine quickly forgives him and offers him Sylvia. That’s a little too noble. Does he like Proteus better? What nobility is that? I guess he’s proving unselfishness, but why sacrifice his intended’s happiness along with his own to a selfish, hitherto disloyal, inconstant person? Julia must agree with me because she swoons and they find both rings on her fingers, which reveals her identity. Proteus, now seeing her superior character, repents his love for Sylvia, and in typical Protean fashion, turns to her instead. And a double wedding ensues. Perhaps Proteus is so easily forgiven because of his naivete, having been so sheltered all his life.
If the heart character is the Christ figure, then Julia instructs us in this by emptying herself and taking the form of a servant boy, and remaining true to sinful, disloyal mankind/Proteus. Further, she wins him back without coercion. She proves herself superior by her sacrificial love, manifested in rings. I like that there is a physical symbol that holds the weight of the conversion.
Speaking of, the bit about Sylvia giving her portrait to Proteus is interesting. Seems a bit iconoclastic in that she does not feel that any veneration given to her image will be transferred to her person. Proteus believes it will, or that her person will be transferred to him through it, however, even if it is the shadow of her person.