Why aren’t we teaching Two Gentlemen of Verona?

This weekend, I’ve been reading Two Gentlemen of Verona. It’s the second time I’ve read it, the first time at my leisure, and it makes me wonder: why isn’t this being taught in schools? Why have I always had to read it on my own?

Here are some reasons why this play is worth teaching:

-       Its scenes are short and the language is relatively simple.

-       It contains two strong female characters and a bunch of male ones, providing potential for group performance. This means that more students have a chance to perform, and nobody has to learn too many lines, much easier than the big tragedies.

-       It has two clowns! That makes for double the comedy!

-       It also has a “bit with a dog”, which we know from Shakespeare in Love, is always a winner for both young and old.

-       It has cross-dressing, which is always important to teach in terms of gender/sexuality dynamics and how women weren’t allowed onstage in Shakespeare’s time

-       It has countless elements from two well-known and often-taught tragedies: Othello (jealousy, scheming to break up one’s best friend’s relationship) and Romeo and Juliet (banishment, sneaking away to be with one’s lover), yet it’s a comedy.

-       Yes, yes, I know – the comedy is a very troubling one, on account of the whole “Valentine loves Silvia, but so does Proteus, who said he loved Julia, but he actually tries to rape Silvia in the forest” thing. Oh, and the whole “Valentine forgives Proteus, and offers (?!?) him Silvia to re-solidify their bonds of friendship” thing. Yeah, that’s misogynist; maybe they should change the title to “Two Ungentlemanly Men of Verona? It doesn’t have the same ring to it. Obviously, teachers do not want to condone rape, the rape myth, or any sort of philosophy other than “only yes means yes.” But we also wouldn’t want the rampant racism of Othello and the teen-runaway-marriage of Romeo and Juliet, and we still teach those. I think it’s totally worthwhile to give the students that shock factor, and then discuss why that’s not acceptable today. Show them how Shakespeare starts the play in such a way that we can totally relate to his writings of youthful infatuation and the wretchedness of long-distance relationships, but how, ultimately, things were different in his time. No matter how durable his writing is, and I know that’s the biggest reason we appreciate his works today, it’s still vital to recognize that he was a product of his time, and wrote for audiences of his time. And unfortunately, the audiences of his time didn’t offer wiggle room when practicing the “bros before hoes” rule.

Okay, so I know that these opinions may be controversial. But perhaps I want it to be that way, in the hopes of stirring up some conversation! What do you think: should this play be taught in schools?

2 Comments

Filed under Genres, Heated Response, Plays

2 responses to “Why aren’t we teaching Two Gentlemen of Verona?

  1. I wrote about 2GV for a conference paper not too long ago, and several people remarked to me that when they read the play for the first time, it was actually better than they’d expected. I think it isn’t taught because it’s got such a bad critical reputation: why spend time on it when you could be doing Much Ado or As You Like It instead? Which is too bad, because I bet you could generate some really interesting discussions from this play!

  2. puffinus maximus

    I say it’s that teachers a) don’t want to get in trouble for discussing rape (they can get in trouble so easily if a student/parent is offended), b) if there’s a child who has suffered rape/sexual assault (which tragically happens), it may bring back the trauma, c) they don’t always have a choice due to lack of choice in the curriculum and lack of funding for the materials

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