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:
But say, Lucetta, now we are alone,
Wouldst thou then counsel me to fall in love?
Ay, madam, so you stumble not unheedfully.
Of all the fair resort of gentlemen
That every day with parle encounter me,
In thy opinion which is worthiest love?
Please you repeat their names, I’ll show my mind
According to my shallow simple skill.
What think’st thou of the fair Sir Eglamour?
As of a knight well-spoken, neat and fine;
But, were I you, he never should be mine.
What think’st thou of the rich Mercatio?
Well of his wealth; but of himself, so-so.
What think’st thou of the gentle Proteus?
Lord, Lord! to see what folly reigns in us!
How now! What means this passion at his name?
Pardon, dear madam: ’tis a passing shame
That I, unworthy body as I am,
Should censure thus on lovely gentlemen.
Why not on Proteus, as of all the rest?
Then thus: of many good, I think him best.
I have no other but a woman’s reason:
I think him so because I think him so.
And wouldst thou have me cast my love on him?
Ay, if you thought your love not cast away.
Why he, of all the rest, hath never moved me.
Yet he, of all the rest, I think, best loves ye.
His little speaking shows his love but small.
Fire that’s closest kept burns most of all.
They do not love that do not show their love.
O, they love least that let men know their love.
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|
|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|
|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|
|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|
|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.|
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.