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Unravelling love, betrayal, friendship, and repentence as found in the rarely performed Shakespearean play Two Gentlemen of Verona. His inconstancy is more pernicious than merely an inability to chart a stable course through his life, or to make up his own mind. He violates both his oaths and his friendship in his mad pursuit of Silvia, turning his back on both the bonds of love and friendship. It is no common friendship, that of Proteus and Valentine. These two gentlemen of Verona open the play on the stage alone, together, saying their farewells with a bantering playfulness that betokens amity.
It is for love that Proteus remains behind in Verona, rather than setting sail with his friend. It Do relationships that Verona no surprise that Proteus attributes his betrayal of his friend to love: He has no other reason, no other cause upon which he might call. The cost of such an effort is steep: it will ruin his friendship with Valentine, and require relinquishing the dutifully-waiting Julia, whom Proteus had sworn oaths of love to already.
Here he stands in the grip and throes of Love; poor, poor Proteus can do no other. Having made himself a slave for Love, it becomes a rather convenient excuse for treason. As his personal identity extended no further than serving love, it is precisely his very self that he argues rests upon the decision.
Proteus even manages to invoke the very virtue he is leaving behind against itself, suggesting that constancy to himself requires inconstancy toward Valentine. The move is as pretty a rationalization as ever you will see.
It is, after all, easy to mock his pathetic rationalizations while mimicking them in far less dramatic ways in our own lives. We are none of us exempt from the temptation to break faith for the sake of Love. The unmarried teenager hoping to navigate his way successfully into a marriage must discover some reason to make the life-altering commitment to this person rather than that, at least if we are going to conduct our erotic attachments any differently than sheep.
But how is he to know? There is no easy way to gain the power of telling true love from false; that is what makes love so much fun, and so destructive. Shakespeare here provides at least one clue: The man who is inconstant cannot be a real lover. That relationship which is begotten through promises and oaths must be brought to its completion by love. The depths of our love are not found out in the swearing of oaths—joyful as such ecstatic offerings can be—but in their performance.
He does not gain himself by betraying his friend—he destroys himself. By dissolving those obligations and promises that had marked out his path, Proteus leaves himself bereft of his own past.
Such relationships make us who we are. We are born into covenants with our parents, and make new ones with our neighbors. In each case, our identity and life consists of mutual obligations, of needing and being needed. Our glad assumption and fulfillment of such covenants expands the self; our biographies are written from the unrepeatable and irreplaceable gifts of ourselves that we offer one another. Proteus is right that his self is at stake in the decision to betray his friend. But he is wrong to say that his self can endure the dissolution of the world which formed it.
When we break faith with one another, the only path to restoration lies through confessing the dissolution of ourselves that we had willingly undertaken and reversing our course. If we are undone by inconstancy, we are remade through repentance. He sees the full weight and tragedy of his betrayal:. My shame and guilt confounds me.
Her judgment is also met with honesty by Proteus, who lays bare his fault for the world:. Were man But constant, he were perfect. That one error Fills him with faults; makes him run through all the sins: Inconstancy falls off ere it begins. But then, repentance happens in a moment in our time as well. Though prudence may sometimes prompt us to delay the reestablishment of the relationship until we have seen the effects of such penitence, such a transformation is the outworking of a momentary revolution within the will.
The humiliation at the heart of repentance takes no time at all. And, perhaps as importantly, there is no time beyond which such repentance is allowed. Proteus is late: his degeneracy reaches shocking depths before he turns from his ways.
But he is not too late, for he Do relationships that Verona has breath. Matthew Lee Anderson is the lead writer and founder of Mere Orthodoxy. Jesus, Stab Me in the Heart! Christian wisdom for life's big questions. Matthew Lee Anderson. Literature Love. Add a little wisdom to your inbox. He sees the full weight and tragedy of his betrayal: My shame and guilt confounds me. Her judgment is also met with honesty by Proteus, who lays bare his fault for the world: Were man But constant, he were perfect.
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The Two Gentlemen of Verona Love