Comments by Bob Corbett
General Note: In January 2009 I decided that I’d like to go back and read all the plays of William Shakespeare, perhaps one a month if that works out. I hadn’t read a Shakespeare play since 1959, 50 years ago! But I had read nearly all of them in college. I wanted to go back, start with something not too serious or challenging, and work my way through the whole corpus. Thus I began with The Two Gentlemen of Verona. At this time I have no idea how the project will go, nor if it will actually lead me through the entire corpus of Shakespeare’s plays. However, I will keep a separate page listing each play I’ve read with links to any comments I would make of that particular play. See: List of Shakespeare’s play’s I’ve read and commented on
This was definitely one of my favorite reads in this project of re-reading the bard. It was light, with loveable characters, happy messages and ending, and some very memorable lines. I just couldn’t stop reading, it was so much fun.
It started out like one of the histories, and I had definitely remembered it as a comedy and the title certainly suggested it. But, one brother has overthrown another; there is a very mean Duke in control and he wants all opposition removed – permanently. It wasn’t going the way a comedy would develop. However, it soon made a turn and many of the bad guys turned good, and the worst of them all gets religion. In the end more people got married that it seemed were in the cast list, and one of my favorite characters, a bit of a curmudgeonly fellow, stuck with his love of the simple life of the forest and told the others to politely go jump!
The play is light and uplifting, celebrating a way of life where people should just sort of kick back, mellow out and make lots of love. Of course there will be adversity in the world, but we are advised on how to deal with it:
Sweet are the uses of adversity,
Which, like the toad, ugly and venomous,
Wears yet a precious jewel in his head;
And this our life, exempt from pubic haunt,
Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in everything.
At times I get frustrated with our present-day world at what seems a money-grabbing attitude toward work with very little attention to the human service of that work, or even of doing a job well because it is one’s job. And so I like to think, ah in the good old days people were different. A history professor friend of mine at the university always demands “There were no good old days.” And Shakespeare reminds us too:
O good old man, how well in thee appears
The constant service of the antique world,
When service sweat for duty, not for mead!
Thou are not for the fashion of these times,
Where none will sweat but for promotion,
And having that, do choke their service up
Even with the having; it is not so with thee.
Ah, yes, the utopians among us were even wailing in Shakespeare’s day. In another exchange between the smart aleck sophisticated wit, Touchstone, and a simple forest guy, with the humility and honesty of the simple shepherd wins our favor respect and even has the wittier line.
Corin: Who calls?
Touchstone: Your betters, sir?
Corin: Else are they very wretched.
And once again I delighted in one of Shakespeare’s most famous monologues:
Thou seest we are not all alone unhappy:
This wide and universal theater
Presents more woeful pageants than the scene
Wherein we play in.
All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first, the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.
Then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the bard,
Jealous in honor, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and skippered pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.
The clown or fool, Touchstone, has gone into the forest with two young women escaping the Duke’s wrath. He meets with the shepherd and while Touchstone likes to celebrate the virtues of court-life, he sees sense in much of the forest life, yet he seems the other side too. A fairly nice balanced account is given:
Truly, shepherd, in respect of itself, it is a
good life; but in respect that it is a shepherd’s life, it is
naught. In respect that it is solitary, I like it very well;
but in respect that it is private, it is a very vile life. Now
in respect it is in the fields, it pleaseth me well; but in
respect it is not in the court, it is tedious. As it is a spare
life, look you, it fits my humor well; but as there is no
more plenty in it, it goes much against my stomach.
At the end goodness pours down on us like benevolent lava would from a volcano were there lava that was benevolent. Hmmm, that image might temper the seeming easy goodness Shakespeare rains down on us with at least four marriages.
The play seems to takes its name from the very short epilogue in which the character of Roselind comes on the stage and tells the audience that you may interpret the play and the call to love "as you like it." And so we may.
A wonderful play to read, so very much fun and so lovely.Bob Corbett firstname.lastname@example.org
Bob Corbett email@example.com