Two Gentlemen–Enter Julia (1 of 2)

With Proteus left to fear the worst about Julia’s reaction to his letter, our scene shifts to the love object herself, talking about boys in private with her maid Lucetta:

JULIA

But say, Lucetta, now we are alone,

Wouldst thou then counsel me to fall in love?

LUCETTA

Ay, madam, so you stumble not unheedfully.

JULIA

Of all the fair resort of gentlemen

That every day with parle encounter me,

In thy opinion which is worthiest love?

LUCETTA

Please you repeat their names, I’ll show my mind

According to my shallow simple skill.

JULIA

What think’st thou of the fair Sir Eglamour?

LUCETTA

As of a knight well-spoken, neat and fine;

But, were I you, he never should be mine.

JULIA

What think’st thou of the rich Mercatio?

LUCETTA

Well of his wealth; but of himself, so-so.

JULIA

What think’st thou of the gentle Proteus?

LUCETTA

Lord, Lord! to see what folly reigns in us!

JULIA

How now! What means this passion at his name?

LUCETTA

Pardon, dear madam: ’tis a passing shame

That I, unworthy body as I am,

Should censure thus on lovely gentlemen.

JULIA

Why not on Proteus, as of all the rest?

LUCETTA

Then thus: of many good, I think him best.

JULIA

Your reason?

LUCETTA

I have no other but a woman’s reason:

I think him so because I think him so.

JULIA

And wouldst thou have me cast my love on him?

LUCETTA

Ay, if you thought your love not cast away.

JULIA

Why he, of all the rest, hath never moved me.

LUCETTA

Yet he, of all the rest, I think, best loves ye.

JULIA

His little speaking shows his love but small.

LUCETTA

Fire that’s closest kept burns most of all.

JULIA

They do not love that do not show their love.

LUCETTA

O, they love least that let men know their love.

(1.2.1-32)

I hate to do this for the third consecutive post, but again I have to remark on how this situation recurs in Shakespeare’s later work, and it’s better done. That’s not to say that this passage is bad—it isn’t at all, although the stichomythia comes across a little singsongy. It’s funny, and it moves the story forward, putting Proteus into romantic play. It is even thematically apposite; note how both Julia and Lucetta bring in the term “gentlemen.”

But compare it with Shakespeare’s better-known treatment of the same situation in The Merchant of Venice. There, when we meet the heroine Portia and her maid Nerissa, they are trash-talking the heroine’s suitors like Julia and Lucetta. The passage is very long, and mostly prose, but let’s have the whole thing after the jump:

Nerissa. But what  
warmth is there in your affection towards any of  
these princely suitors that are already come?  
Portia. I pray thee over–name them, and as thou namest  
them, I will describe them, and according to my  
description level at my affection.  
Nerissa. First there is the Neapolitan prince.  
Portia. Ay, that’s a colt indeed, for he doth nothing but talk  
of his horse, and he makes it a great appropriation to  
his own good parts that he can shoe him himself. I  
am much afeard my lady his mother played false  
with a smith.  
Nerissa. Then is there the County Palatine.  
Portia. He doth nothing but frown, as who should say, ‘and  
you will not have me, choose.’ He hears merry tales  
and smiles not; I fear he will prove the weeping  
philosopher when he grows old, being so full of un–  
mannerly sadness in his youth. I had rather be mar–  
ried to a death’s-head with a bone in his mouth than  
to either of these. God defend me from these two.  
Nerissa. How say you by the French lord, Monsieur Le Bon?  
Por. God made him, and therefore let him pass for a man,  
—in truth I know it is a sin to be a mocker, but he!  
why he hath a horse better than the Neapolitan’s, a  
better bad habit of frowning than the Count Pala–  
tine, he is every man in no man, if a throstle sing, he  
falls straight a–cap’ring, he will fence with his own  
shadow. If I should marry him, I should marry  
twenty husbands: if he would despise me, I would  
forgive him, for if he love me to madness, I shall  
never requite him.  
Ner. What say you then to Falconbridge, the young baron  
of England?  
Por. You know I say nothing to him, for he understands  
not me, nor I him: he hath neither Latin, French,  
nor Italian, and you will come into the court and  
swear that I have a poor pennyworth in the English:  
he is a proper man’s picture, but alas! who can con–  
verse with a dumb–show? How oddly he is suited! I  
think he bought his doublet in Italy, his round hose  
in France, his bonnet in Germany, and his behaviour  
everywhere.  
Ner. What think you of the Scottish lord his neighbour?  
Por. That he hath a neighbourly charity in him, for he  
borrowed a box of the ear of the Englishman, and  
swore he would pay him again when he was able: I  
think the Frenchman became his surety, and seal’d  
under for another.  
Ner. How like you the young German, the Duke of  
Saxony’s nephew?  
Por. Very vildly in the morning when he is sober, and  
most vildly in the afternoon when he is drunk: when  
he is best, he is a little worse than a man, and when he  
is worst he is little better than a beast,—and the  
worst fall that ever fell, I hope I shall make shift to go  
without him.  
Ner. If he should offer to choose, and choose the right cas–  
ket, you should refuse to perform your father’s will,  
if you should refuse to accept him.  
Por. Therefore for fear of the worst, I pray thee set a deep  
glass of Rhenish wine on the contrary casket, for if  
the devil be within, and that temptation without, I  
know he will choose it. I will do anything Nerissa  
ere I will be married to a sponge.  
Ner. You need not fear lady the having any of these lords,  
they have acquainted me with their determinations,  
which is indeed to return to their home, and to  
trouble you with no more suit, unless you may be  
won by some other sort than your father’s imposition,  
depending on the caskets.  
Por. If I live to be as old as Sibylla, I will die as chaste as  
Diana, unless I be obtained by the manner of my  
father’s will: I am glad this parcel of wooers are so  
reasonable, for there is not one among them but I  
dote on his very absence: and I pray God grant them  
a fair departure.  
Ner. Do you not remember lady in your father’s time, a  
Venetian (a scholar and a soldier) that came hither  
in company of the Marquis of Montferrat?  
Por. Yes, yes, it was Bassanio, as I think so was he call’d.  
Ner. True madam, he of all the men that ever my foolish  
eyes look’d upon, was the best deserving a fair lady.  
Por. I remember him well, and I remember him worthy  
of thy praise.  
   

(1.2.31-115)

Again, I’m not saying that the scene in Two Gentlemen is bad, or not funny, but it should be obvious that the scene in The Merchant of Venice is better written, more revelatory of character, and funnier. Note that in Two Gents Julia asks Lucetta her opinion of the suitors, whereas in Merchant Portia offers her own opinion. Although Lucetta is pretty forthright for a servant, she has to hold back, hence the one-line responses. Portia, on the other hand, can be as scathing as she likes. That she likes it a lot tells us a great deal about her and allows us to think that Bassanio is the best of the lot (even if it is a fairly rum lot). And as we’ll see when we get to the play, that is interesting in context; at this early stage we’ve seen Bassanio and he’s seemed something of a parasite and four-flusher.

In defense of Two Gentlemen, we are shortly going to find out more about how Julia feels. But that is the subject of another post.

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