The Sword of Proteus

The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Tobacco Factory Bristol, 13 April 2013

“Please note there is a dog in today’s performance”, said the notice outside the auditorium. Underneath were instructions from Launce not to leave food under seats, as this might tempt his dog Crab. Two characters had already been introduced and a comic note struck before the performance had begun.

If this was a bold move, it was nothing compared with the production’s textual additions and reordering of scenes.

The costumes were Edwardian era, all cream suits and stiff dresses. Three café tables were in place for the start of the performance. Valentine (Jack Bannell) and Proteus (Piers Wehner) sat around the centre one (1.1). Valentine’s opening speech beginning with “Cease to persuade…” was cut, replaced by a song beginning with the same words delivered to them by the café songstress (Eva Tausig). This tuneful interlude over, Proteus was the first to speak asking Valentine “Wilt thou be gone?”

After establishing that Valentine was off to Milan and Proteus staying at home out of love for Julia, the production text (Dominic Power), audaciously introduced an entirely new plotline.

Proteus presented Valentine with an elegant sword, a family heirloom given to him by his father. He drew it from its scabbard and, holding it horizontally, showed Valentine its silvery lustre, which reflected both their faces. Valentine drew too close and his breath misted the metal, but their reflections were restored when this mist evaporated.

Proteus insisted that, should he ever prove disloyal to Valentine, his friend should use this very sword to strike at him.

This insertion was so skilfully handled and well-written that it was almost imperceptible.

The device of a sword reflecting the image of their friendship, only to be temporarily obscured by the hot breath (of Valentine’s anger) and then restored, was a poetic microcosm of the entire story.

After Valentine’s departure, Proteus addressed his “He after honour hunts, I after love” to the waiter (Alan Coveney) who was clearing tables.

In another departure from the text, Speed’s conversation with Proteus was replaced by an entirely new sequence. Launce (Chris Donnelly), accompanied by Crab (Lollio), spoke briefly with Speed (Marc Geoffrey) explaining that he had bungled the delivery of Proteus’s letter to Julia by handing the missive to Lucetta and that Crab had disgraced himself by humping her leg.

Proteus himself then appeared and Launce told his master the story in greater detail, recounting how Crab had become “amorous” about a lady’s leg. In his nervousness, Launce mispronounced Lucetta as “bruschetta”.

Proteus reacted by saying that Crab should be shot and drowned, which prompted concern for the dog. But Proteus was placated when Launce further explained that the mischance had befallen Julia’s maid rather than Julia herself.

This early appearance by Crab established his performance style, which was a dogged refusal to speak in reply to his master’s persistent complaints.

Julia (Dorothea Myer-Bennett) went through a list of her suitors, asking Lucetta (Nicky Goldie) which of them she thought most suitable (1.2). When Julia mentioned Proteus, Lucetta pulled Proteus’s letter from her dress as if tentatively gesturing to deliver it, a haste motivated by her subsequent comment that she thought Proteus the best of Julia’s suitors. She eventually handed over the letter, but Julia thrust it back at her. The maid then left Julia alone with her thoughts.

As Julia leant against a pillar, Proteus walked around the back of the audience seating, filling the air with a love song dedicated to her. This prompted Julia’s change of heart and a desire to look at the letter properly.

Julia called for Lucetta, who was still very keen for Julia to take delivery. She dropped the letter, stared back at Julia as if to draw attention to it, and then picked it up again. She stuffed the note away, only bringing it out again to claim “it will not lie where it concerns”. At “I cannot reach so high” Lucetta held the letter up as if teasing Julia to take it.

But when Julia finally took hold of the letter she frantically tore it into pieces that scattered on the ground. She was immediately full of regret, shaking her own hands, the “injurious wasps” that had done the damage, as if disowning them.

She scrabbled around on her hands and knees picking up pieces of the letter that had Proteus’s name written on them. She scornfully flicked a scrap bearing her name away with her finger and then fretted about what to do with a slip that contained both their names together.

Dorothea Myer-Bennett managed to make this sequence both amusing and also a sincere expression of her character’s heartfelt love.

Realising that Julia would eventually want the whole letter, Lucetta gathered the scraps of paper from the ground. Indeed, seeming to regret her previous rashness, Julia made sure that Lucetta picked up the piece with her name on it that she had previously made of point of flicking away.

Antonio (David Plimmer) agreed with Pantino’s (Thomas Frere) advice that Proteus should follow Valentine and gain some worldly experience (1.3). Proteus entered kissing a letter he had received from Julia, which he hastily hid when his father questioned him about it. Proteus pretended the letter was from Valentine, and that his friend wished Proteus were with him. His father seized on this as a happy coincidence and used it as the pretext to announce his sending forth.

Proteus bemoaned the fact that his subterfuge had rebounded on him and that hiding Julia’s letter had accelerated his separation from her.

In an invented sequence, Julia complained to Lucetta that she had made her love Proteus, who had now been sent away. Lucetta pointed out Proteus and suggested that Julia speak with him.

Proteus told Julia of his departure and they exchanged rings as love tokens (2.2). She insisted on them sharing “a holy kiss”. She pecked him briefly, as if her passion had suddenly overcome her modesty. When Proteus bade Julia farewell, their lips came close together, an opportunity that Julia seized by grabbing him and kissing him for longer. That done, she walked away briskly without saying a word, prompting Proteus to remark on her silent departure.

Launce led in Crab and handed the lead to an audience member, mumbling “Take him!” before addressing the rest of us with his grievances against his unsympathetic companion. The anti-Semitic reference were removed here, as others were from the rest of the play.

Emphasising his distress, Launce blew his nose on his handkerchief, which he then placed under his hat for safekeeping.

Lollio was quite an old black Labrador, who sat, panted and looked on adoringly as his master (and real-life owner) criticised him.

Launce placed his shoes on opposite pillar seats, the one representing his mother had a hole in it and was offered to an audience member so that they could smell “my mother’s breath up and down”. Someone groaned at the sole/soul pun and Launce offered a disconsolate “It doesn’t get any better”.

His stick was used to represent his sister, even though it wasn’t “white as a lily”. Launce’s increasing confusion was juxtaposed with his dog’s placid demeanour, making him seem all the more manic.

Pantino tried to hurry Launce along to catch up with the departing Proteus. But Launce outwitted him, turning his reference to the “tide” into a reference to Crab who was “tied”. Launce teasingly placed his finger over Pantino’s mouth, suggesting that Pantino might lose his tongue. When Pantino asked where, Launce said “in thy tale”, gesturing at Pantino’s rear, implying that the gentleman was unhealthily self-absorbed.

Waiters

The change of scene to Milan was introduced with an extended song sequence during which waiters set out chairs, tables and table cloths (2.1).

Speed held aloft a glove thinking it was Valentine’s. But his master soon recognised it as Silvia’s, sending him into a rhapsody over his new love. He stood on the pillar seat as if looking out for her.

Speed recognised Valentine was in love by the way he crossed his arms and his general moping around.

Such was Valentine’s touchiness that when Speed remarked “You never saw her since she was deformed”, he seized Speed by the lapels and shouted as if in panic “How long hath she been deformed?” Fortunately Speed was able to quench this fiery anger by retorting “Ever since you loved her”.

Speed pointed out that Valentine’s judgment was flawed and that he had not noticed his own shoe was untied (shoe replacing the original text’s reference to hose). The fact that Valentine’s repost, kept in the original, criticised Speed for not wiping his master’s shoes, gave the entire exchange a neat coherence. Speed told Valentine to sit down so that his ardour and enthusiasm for Silvia would not be so apparent, a bawdy joke suggesting his arousal.

Silvia (Lisa Kay) appeared in her fine white outfit and sat at the table with Valentine, while Speed retreated to a table in the corner. A drink was brought for Silvia. She smiled at her “servant” as if secretly pleased with his enthralment to her and relishing the trick she was playing on him.

Valentine presented her with the letter she had asked him to write to a “secret nameless friend”. She thrust it back at him, dropping increasingly clearer hints that it was meant for him, and made to leave. She became flustered at Valentine’s inability to understand her subterfuge and left without touching her drink, departing with a backward glance and loud huff at her suitor’s ineptitude.

Relaxing at the far off table, Speed nonchalantly elucidated the seemingly obvious fact that Silvia had got Valentine to write a letter to himself.

Speed announced it was dinner time, and Valentine’s disconsolate “I have dined” was infused with his disappointment at his own foolishness.

After Valentine had left, this scene merged into 2.5 in which Launce and Crab arrived in Milan and were greeted by Speed. Launce placed his hat on the café table and celebrated his arrival by downing the drink that Silvia had left behind, which he promptly spat out. His distaste for the fine drink explained his suggestion to Speed that they should visit the ale house.

Speed asked him if Julia and Proteus were to marry. After seeming to answer no, Launce played on Speed’s use of “stand” to bring out its bawdy sense with “when it stands well with him, it stands well with her”. Speed said he did not understand, enabling Launce to further develop the joke by raising his staff in a priapic gesture to comment that his staff “understands me”, i.e. that by being raised in that way it exemplified the jest he was making. But he also leant on it so show how it stood under him.

Launce referred Speed to his dog for an answer: “If he say ‘Ay’, it will; if he say ‘No’, it will”. Glancing at the approaching Crab, he raised the pitch of his voice into one suitable for the encouragement of his pet and concluded “If he shake his tail and say nothing, it will”. On this occasion, Lollio did indeed become excited and wag his tail in appreciation of his master’s attention.

After this tour de force of human/canine interaction, the ensuing play on words that confused Speed’s reference to his master as a “lover” and Launce’s characterisation of him as a mere “lubber” felt rather flat.

The waiter came to clear away the tables, which were removed from the stage. Launce took up his hat but left his handkerchief behind, which the waiter invited him to take with him.

Silvia cast loving glances at Valentine and there was something playfully mocking about Silvia’s constant reference to him as her “servant” (2.4). The competition over Silvia between Valentine and the much older and punctilious Turio (Paul Currier) was expressed in their pithy trading of insults. Silvia seemed happy to be the cause of this “fine volley of words” between the rivals.

The Duke of Milan (Peter Clifford), looking remarkably like King George V, informed Valentine that his friend Proteus had arrived, leading Valentine to praise Proteus effusively. The young man entered and Valentine presented him to Silvia. At first Proteus showed no obvious sign of being smitten with her.

Silvia left the two friends together. As she departed, the amorous Turio tendered his arm for her to hold, but she breezed past without noticing him.

Valentine poetically described how he had come under love’s spell. Proteus was careful not to agree with Valentine’s effusive praise. He said he would not flatter Silvia and did not consider her “a heavenly saint” but only “an earthly paragon”.

However, the reality behind Proteus’s apparent disdain for Silvia soon became apparent, and at an ironic moment. When Proteus harked back to Julia, proclaiming “Have I not reason to prefer mine own?” he picked up Silvia’s book, which she had left behind on her chair, and smelt it, possibly discerned a trace of her scent.

Valentine made the mistake of telling Proteus that he and Silvia were betrothed and were planning to elope after rescuing her from a high tower using a rope ladder.

Instead of going with Valentine to further advise him, Proteus stayed behind to confess to us that he had fallen for Silvia. His slow deliberate explanation of how one love had been displaced by another, showed his conversion to be incomplete: he referred to “Julia that I love” but hastily corrected this to “that I did love”. This hinted that he was deceiving himself when he insisted that the displacement had been clean and perfect like one nail driving out another. This tiny hint would help to make the denouement of the play more credible.

Proteus seemed genuinely surprised at where his heart had led him. He sat in silence on Silvia’s chair, clutching her book and lost in his thoughts on one side of the stage, while on the other side Julia appeared and asked Lucetta how she could journey to find Proteus (2.7).

Lucetta at first tried to dissuade her, but Julia spoke of her love being like a fire or a torrent, which raged more violently for being suppressed, kneeling to beg Lucetta’s assistance. The maid finally relented, saying “But in what habit will you go along?” at which point Julia rose and shook her fists in victory.

Julia proposed to go in disguise as a man, but seemed disconcerted at Lucetta’s insistence that she would have then to cut her hair. With a tinge of pain in her voice at the thought of losing her lovely tresses, Julia insisted that she would only have to tie it up. The text’s reference to a codpiece was changed to a trouser fly to fit the Edwardian setting.

In a change to the text, Lucetta decided to accompany Julia, taking over the function of the Host in later scenes. This was achieved by some new dialogue.

Lucetta suggested that she could go disguised as a man too and could brandish a pistol and dagger. Julia countered that this disguise might provoke quarrels, and proposed that Lucetta pretend to be her sister. But Lucetta finally decided on posing as ‘Sebastian’s’ mother, which would enable her to “pass without annoy”.

All the while Proteus sat in full view and pondered. The staging created the clear implication that Julia was present in his thoughts and that they were filling him with guilt.

Julia and Lucetta departed. Proteus cast Silvia’s book aside and rose to address us again, continuing with 2.6. Having observed his long, silent distress, we could understand the depth of his predicament and how his heart’s prompting to leave Julia, love Silvia and betray Valentine conflicted with his better nature.

This soliloquised rationalisation by Proteus and his detailed consideration of his position, gave him a depth completely absent from Valentine, who had veered from dim-witted insouciance to volatile passion without seeming to engage in any form of reflection.

Of the two, Proteus was more the thoughtful but therefore also the most calculating and potentially treacherous.

He coldly concluded that he would “forget that Julia is alive” and “Valentine I’ll hold an enemy aiming at Silvia as a sweeter friend”. He told us that he would betray the secret elopement to Silvia’s father the Duke and then deal with rival Turio. On that chillingly nefarious note, the interval came.

Pleasures

The second half began with Speed singing a mildly bawdy song to Silvia’s glove. Turio accompanied Proteus and the Duke, carrying a large whisky decanter and with a large cigar in his mouth, tempting the others to join him in these earthy pleasures (3.1). But the Duke asked Turio to leave them in peace, the slow droop of the cigar in Turio’s mouth witnessing his dejection.

Proteus got his plot underway by telling the Duke about Valentine and Silvia’s flight. His obnoxious insistence that he was loathed to snitch on a friend and was only doing so from a sense of duty, drew some muttering from the recently refreshed audience.

The Duke then conveniently met Valentine, who was wearing a long coat with a slight bulge around the middle.

Valentine’s lie that he was hurrying to pass letters to a messenger was much less skilled than the whole pack of fibs that Proteus had just delivered. This reinforced Proteus’s status as the more consummate deceiver.

The would-be eloper fell completely for the Duke’s story that he need advice on how to escape with his new love, who was sequestered in a high tower. Valentine suggested using a rope ladder concealed under a coat. It was only when the Duke insisted that Valentine open his own coat so that he could examine it that Valentine realised he had been duped.

The coat was opened and Valentine’s rope ladder fell out. One rung was fixed over his neck so that the rest unfurled onto the ground. This enabled the Duke to take up the other end and drape the ladder between the two of them, finally pulling on his end to draw Valentine close to him.

The letter in the original text was replaced by the device of the Duke discovering Silvia’s name inscribed on the top rung of Valentine’s ladder. The Duke compared him to Phaeton driving the sun to close to the earth in his “daring folly”, concluding by banishing him.

Valentine described this punishment as a “living torment” equal to death. He stressed the phrase “She is my essence” as it was a neat and powerful summary of what she meant to him.

Proteus caught up with Valentine, who was unwilling to hear any good news his friend might have. Asked if Silvia were dead, Proteus assured “No, Valentine”, a phrase which Valentine took up angrily repeating it as “No Valentine” as he ruminated over whether Silvia had abandoned him.

Launce reported that Valentine had been “vanished”, which Proteus corrected to “banishèd”, a lesson that Launce retained for later.

Valentine sat on the ground and sobbed about his “dolour”. There was a hint that Proteus was actually unhappy to see Valentine in this distraught condition and that his advice to be hopeful and let time work a cure was partly sincere.

Proteus brought along the sword he had given to Valentine and handed it to him again when he warned him of the perils of his banishment, saying “Regard thy danger”.

This insistence by Proteus that Valentine keep the sword with him could have been another product of Proteus’s guilt at his betrayal of his friend and a semi-conscious desire to be punished for this fault.

Left alone by the departure of the others, Launce drew out the “cate-log” of virtues he had composed about his new love, which Speed was soon present to comment on.

Launce opened his jacket when saying that she was not a maid “for she hath had gossips”.

Speed read the full list out so that Launce could reflect on it. When his friend got to “Item: She can spin.” Launce sat back and opened his legs implying that her ability to “spin for her living” meant something sexual, as in spinning flax from a distaff: the same as the “spin it off” gag in Twelfth Night.

The clowning continued into the list of her vices. Great amusement was derived from “She is slow in words” rapidly being promoted into a virtue. The fact that she had no teeth was of no account because Crab (not Launce) loved crusts.

The final fact about her, that she had money, sealed the deal conclusively. This enabled Launce to inform Speed that he had better run to catch up with his master.

A final trading of insults saw Speed describe his master as “banished” with Launce correcting him to the more metrical “banishèd”, which was a good textual joke and indicated that he had remembered his master’s earlier correction.

Proteus continued to be obsequiously helpful to the Duke, who was plotting to make his daughter Silvia fall for Turio (3.2). He advised the Duke to have Valentine’s reputation slandered, and by a friend. But he objected when the Duke suggested him for the task.

The Duke overruled Proteus’s moral objection with spurious reasoning and Turio asked Proteus to sing his praises. Proteus realised how difficult this would be and so recommended that Turio make an effort himself and compose love sonnets and sing songs to Silvia. They agreed to procure some musicians and serenade her that evening.

The outlaws lay in wait to rob passers-by in the forest (4.1). They sprung their trap as Valentine and Speed approached. Valentine was searched and the sword gifted to him by Proteus was taken from him.

Valentine objected that he had nothing of value other than the clothes he stood up in and told the outlaws he had been banished for killing a man. One of the outlaws comically characterised this as “so small a fault”.

The humour of that remark was surpassed when the female outlaw (Eva Tausig again) took a shine to Valentine. Her description of him as “beautified with goodly shape” was a blatant flirtation, only cut short when she was thrust aside by another bandit.

Valentine was offered the position of their general, and threatened with death if he refused. He accepted the kind offer on condition they did no harm to women and poor travellers.

In an invented sequence, Julia and Lucetta arrived in Milan. Julia wore a tweed outfit with a cap to hide her hair and Lucetta addressed her as “son Sebastian” to cement her adopted identity in the audience’s mind. They set off once more to seek out Proteus.

Proteus described how, despite his scheming, Silvia would constantly remind him of his disloyalty to both Valentine and Julia (4.2). As he and Turio prepared to serenade Silvia, Julia and Lucetta appeared at the other end of the stage and hid behind pillars to observe.

A trio of musicians provided musical accompaniment for Proteus’s wooing. Julia was disturbed to hear her love singing another woman’s praises. This was particularly galling for her because she had previously been serenaded in exactly the same way by Proteus: it was his singing that had finally persuaded her to reconsider his love letter.

Turio left thinking that the more experienced Proteus would plead for him. Silvia appeared up in a corner of the performance space representing her house and summarily dismissed Proteus as soon as she recognised him. This was consistent with the serial rejections Proteus had mentioned at the start of the scene.

Julia’s turmoil only increased when Proteus assured Silvia that his former love was dead. But Silvia, dripping effortlessly with disdain, was having none of it. She reminded Proteus of his loyalty to his friend, and her fiancé, Valentine. If Proteus presumed Valentine dead, argued Silvia, then so was she because her love was buried in Valentines’ grave.

Proteus requested that Silvia supply him with a picture of herself, which she agreed to, seeing it apt for his false love to devote itself to a mere image.

Instead of asking the Host where Proteus lodged, Julia put this question to Silvia’s maid Ursula (Eva Tausig again), who informed her “Marry, at my friend’s house”.

The dapper Eglamour (Alan Coveney again) told us he was due to meet with Silvia upon some errand (4.3). Silvia appeared and explained that she wanted him to accompany her to Mantua so that she could be reunited with Valentine. In the middle of their conversation, the Duke her father walked past and said good-day to them, underscoring her later comment about being spied upon.

Eglamour agreed, and as they departed they signalled their accord by each accompanying their “Good morrow” with a furtive crook of the finger towards the nose.

Companion

The final scene with Launce and Crab (4.4) was the funniest, but it also proved difficult for the actor because by now the audience had acquired such an affection for the adorable Labrador that Launce had problems keeping their attention on himself and away from his silent companion.

Launce explained how he had offered Crab as a present to Silvia but that the dog had disgraced himself by peeing under the table, a fault for which Launce had taken the blame to save his dog’s life.

Proteus addressed ‘Sebastian’ by name before asking Launce if he had delivered the dog to Silvia. Launce explained that the little dog or “squirrel” that he should have taken had been stolen. He had offered Crab instead, the bigger dog being a more substantial present, but she had rejected it.

Proteus did not appreciate the logic of this and ordered Launce to find the original dog. Launce exited briskly, but Crab followed him more slowly, his lead trailing between his legs. Proteus had stood by the exit pointing towards it with an extended finger to indicate where Launce should depart. He stayed fixed in this precise position waiting for the tardy Crab to follow his master out, tracking Crab’s slow progress and giving him a final word of encouragement as he exited through the doorway. This greatly amused the audience.

Proteus turned to the disguised Julia asking her to collect Silvia’s picture and take a ring to her. Recognising it as the gift that she had given to Proteus, Julia turned away to say “It seems you love her not, to leave her token”. She continued the extended exchange about the ring facing away from Proteus, fighting the tears swelling in her eyes as she felt the injury of his gesture.

Proteus also gave her a letter to take to Silvia and then left her alone. Julia’s “How many women would do such a message?” was remarkable for the way in which Julia’s pain was clearly conveyed and the moment unmistakably distinct from the comic mayhem of much of the rest of the production. It was impossible not to feel for her.

A bell chimed and Julia walked slowly towards the exit. This was remarkably (and possibly deliberately) reminiscent of Macbeth’s “I go, and it is done” moment.

Silvia and her maid Ursula swept through at the opposite entrance. Seizing her chance, Julia made her request and Silvia had Ursula hand the picture over to her.

Julia offered a letter to Silvia, but it was clearly the old tattered letter from Proteus that she had carefully reassembled. She took back the precious keepsake and presented Silvia with the correct letter. No matter, Silvia tore the letter up anyway (the remnants were collected later by Proteus in an echo of Julia’s gathering up of shreds).

Julia offered Silvia the ring, but she refused it on the grounds that it was the one Julia had given to Proteus. She said that though Proteus’s false finger had profaned the ring, she would not do such a wrong to his Julia.

Julia appreciated this kind and loyal gesture so much that she momentarily forgot her disguise to say “She thanks you” in her natural female voice, correcting herself soon after to “I thank you” in her assumed male voice.

This led into a discussion in which ‘Sebastian’ alluded to how well she knew Julia’s sadness, touching on the similarities between them. Silvia gave Julia her purse and left her alone, allowing Julia to praise Silvia’s manifest virtues.

She placed the picture of Silvia on the pillar seat and began a fretful comparison of her own features with the beauty of the portrait. She looked at a nearby member of the audience and showed them her “eyes as grey as glass” which she said were identical to Silvia’s.

Julia clawed her fingers over the picture saying that her liking for Silvia prevented her from scratching its eyes out so that Proteus would not love the image so much.

After a brief scene in which Eglamour and Silvia set off to Mantua (5.1), we saw Proteus explain to Turio that Silvia did not consider him attractive (5.2).

As Proteus offered his diplomatic comments on Turio’s inadequacies, the disguised Julia stood to his side, facing in the opposite direction, and offering her own withering put-downs, which Proteus could hear but Turio could not.

Proteus appreciated his page’s quick wit and tapped ‘Sebastian’ on the shoulder in appreciation, while maintaining an unamused straight face toward Turio. Although still unaware of the page’s true identity, Proteus’s appreciation of Julia’s humour witnessed the undiminished bond between them.

The Duke enquired after Eglamour and his daughter, but neither Proteus nor Turio had seen them. The Duke concluded that she had fled to see Valentine accompanied by Eglamour, and ordered Proteus and Turio to follow him in his pursuit of the escapees.

Turio agreed to be revenged on Eglamour, Proteus followed for love of Silvia and Julia went too, still clutching Silvia’s picture, saying she bore her no hate and only wanted to stop Proteus.

Silvia cried as she was dragged onstage by her outlaw captors (5.3). We learnt that Eglamour had escaped. The brigands took Silvia away to see their leader, Valentine.

Valentine, with Proteus’s sword strapped to his back, declared how the solitary life in the forest pleased him more than life in town (5.4). He heard a commotion and withdrew, perching behind the pillar on its seat to hide from those approaching.

Proteus had rescued Silvia from the outlaws and Julia brandished a musket to chase one of them briskly in one door and out another, so that her first aside commenting on the situation was cut.

Silvia was far from happy at being rescued by Proteus, rejecting his advances and continuing to remind him of Julia, who had now joined them.

Proteus’s attempted ravishment of Silvia prompted Valentine to rush forward from behind the pillar and pull a very surprised Proteus away from her. For quite some time, Silvia leant against a pillar seat breathless and sobbing in distress.

The original text’s rapid turnaround, with Proteus’s almost instantaneous conversion to good and Valentine’s equally immediate forgiveness against a background of utter silence from Silvia, was extensively reworked with additional dialogue that completely changed the tone of the ending of the play, with a much more active role for Silvia.

The sword given by Proteus to Valentine again came into play. Valentine shouted at Proteus, who knelt and expressed his remorse, finally demanding that Valentine use his sword to kill him. Valentine pointed the sword at Proteus.

Julia, in invented lines, pleaded with Valentine to spare Proteus’s life. But the decisive intervention was made by Silvia. She rescued her love by taking the sword from Proteus, and went to stand on the nearby pillar seat to observe and comment on events.

Valentine was now satisfied with his friend’s remorse, declaring “Then I am paid” and knelt facing Proteus so that the newly-reconciled friends could embrace.

Valentine concluded with his astonishing announcement “All that was mine in Silvia I give to thee”. Silvia exclaimed in shock at her apparent abandonment.

The prospect of losing Proteus to Silvia caused Julia to faint. She partly recovered and explained woozily that she had not delivered the ring to Silvia. In her confusion, she showed Proteus the ring that he had given to her. This was an honest mistake caused by her grogginess.

But she took advantage of the error, and explained that she had come by the ring because she was in fact Julia. Although no element of her disguise was removed or altered, the reveal was nevertheless convincing.

Impressed by her constancy, Proteus swore his love for her and they were reconciled.

The outlaws burst in together with the Duke and Turio, with the latter laying claim to Silvia. From her vantage point overlooking events, she retorted sarcastically in an invented aside “Whose love am I?”

Valentine threatened Turio with death unless he abandoned his claim. Turio relented in the face of this duress, proving the shallowness of his pretended affection as he concluded “I claim her not, and therefore is she thine.”

Silvia, who had moments earlier been offered like a chattel by Valentine, now commented “Twice this day I have been given!”

The Duke, disgusted at Turio for leaving his daughter “on such slight conditions”, revoked Valentine’s banishment and told him “take thou thy Silvia, for thou hast deserved her”. This prompted the increasingly bemused Silvia to call out “Thrice given!”

As Valentine accepted the Duke’s ‘gift’, Silvia commented that she would rather be “the giver, not the gift”. This was fully consistent with the feistiness she had previously displayed, but obviously ran contrary to the original text in which Silvia is silent.

Although he had not heard Silvia’s asides, Valentine proposed to Silvia, asking for her consent as she had wished. She now came forward, the sword in her hand, and accepted his proposal.

Valentine asked the Duke to pardon the other outlaws, to which he assented. The outlaws still had Eglamour’s trousers, which they passed one to the other until the last outlaw handed them back to Eglamour, who had been standing trouser-less a brief while for comic effect.

Valentine asked the Duke what he thought of the page. The Duke began his answer, just as Julia, still in her disguise as Sebastian, began to kiss Proteus. The sight of this apparent anomaly caused the Duke to falter in his answer.

Valentine wrapped up events and proposed a joint wedding. The two fiancés held their arms out for their women to take. But Julia and Silvia exchanged a knowing look, linked arms with each other and walked off together, Silvia still holding Proteus’s sword (symbolising friendship as well as power), in a display of solidarity that had grown out their developing mutual respect.

After an initial curtain call, music struck up and a song “Cease to persuade, cease to disdain” accompanied a formal dance, which saw the couples pair up again and the men sweep the women off their feet.

Conclusions

The production was exceedingly entertaining with a high standard of performance overall, not least from its canine actor Lollio, backed by inventive directorial touches and a wonderfully effective use of music.

Though not a full-blown Nahum Tate-style rewrite, the ending was substantially reworked and had a 21st century sensibility that was very satisfying for the audience. But this came at the expense of depriving them of the problems posed by the original.

The insertion of the sword plot line that threaded its way from Proteus and Valentine’s first scene through to their final confrontation, seemed to be motivated by nothing more than the adapter relishing his ability to write new lines and passing them off as Shakespeare’s.

While these radical changes to the play were intriguing, the audience was not made aware of them. Anyone for whom this production was their introduction to the play might find subsequent versions confusing, no doubt wondering what had happened to Silvia’s assertiveness at the play’s conclusion.

Many productions tweak the original text to varying extents. So at what point does an audience deserve an explanation that what they are seeing is not the play as written?

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