The Two Gentlemen of Verona | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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The Two Gentlemen of Verona | Act 2, Scene 7 | Summary

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Summary

Meanwhile, at home in Verona, an impatient and lovesick Julia plans "a journey to [her] loving Proteus." Lucetta reasonably urges her to wait until Proteus returns and attempts to moderate Julia's passion, to "qualify the fire's extreme rage, / Lest it should burn above the bounds of reason." Julia refuses to heed the advice. Desire, she says, is like a stream that "impatiently doth rage" when dammed up, but which flows smoothly and calmly if no attempt is made to hinder it.

To avoid "the loose encounters of lascivious men," Julia decides to travel disguised as a page, tying up her hair in love-knots and dressing in men's clothing. Fearful of the possibility of scandal, she almost abandons this plan, but Lucetta urges her to make up her mind. Leaving her goods and property at Lucetta's disposal, she exits the stage to prepare for her trip to Milan.

Analysis

The change in Lucetta's and Julia's regard for Proteus is interesting to note. In terms of the theme of wise servant, foolish master, especially, there is a complete reversal from Act 1. Lucetta now tries to lessen Julia's passion for Proteus, whereas she initially tried to arouse it. She encourages Julia to act reasonably and not be fooled by male trickery. Nor does Lucetta insist Proteus loves Julia more than her other suitors do. Indeed, Lucetta is suspicious—or at best cautious and protective.

Having a heroine dress as a man is one of Shakespeare's favorite comic plot devices. Women in masculine disguise shows up in no fewer than seven of his works, which Phyllis Rackin describes as the "crossdressing comedies" in a 2003 essay on gender in Shakespeare. This act, hardly transgressive by modern standards, makes an important point about the relative freedom enjoyed by men in early modern Europe and underscores the theme of living in a man's world. For a woman to travel alone was to leave herself vulnerable not only to the violence of bandits but also to the judgment of strangers who would question her honor and propriety. A man—even a young man like Julia's alias Sebastian—could travel with impunity. A woman could not.

As Rackin points out, the role of Julia would originally have been played by a boy actor, so her donning of a male disguise creates a multilayered masquerade. Although the gender-bending humor is kept to a minimum, Julia's disguise does elicit a chuckle in the play's final scene.

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