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René Girard LOVE DELIGHTS IN PRAISES: A READING OF THE TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA Valentine and Proteus have been friends since their earliest childhood in Verona, and their two fathers want to send them to Milan for their education. Because of his love for a girl named Julia, Proteus refuses to leave Verona; Valentine goes to Milan alone. In spite ofJulia, however, Proteus misses Valentine greatly and, after a while, he, too, goes to Milan. The two friends are reunited in the ducal palace; the duke's daughter, Silvia, is present and Valentine briefly introduces Proteus. After she departs, Valentine announces that he loves her and his hyperbolical passion irritates Proteus. Once alone, however, Proteus has his own announcement to make: he no longer loves Julia; he, too, has fallen in love with Silvia: Even as one heat another heat expels, Or as one nail by strength drives out another, So the remembrance of my former love Is by a newer object quite forgotten.1 If there ever was a "love at first sight," this must be it, we think, but Proteus is not so sure: in three crucial lines, he suggests a different explanation: Is it mine eye, or Valentinus' praise, Her true perfection or my false transgression, That makes me reasonless, to reason thus? (Il.iv. 196-98) 231 232Philosophy and Literature The entire comedy massively confirms the crucial role of Valentine in the genesis of Proteus's sudden passion for Silvia. According to our romantic and individualistic ideology, a borrowed sentiment such as this one is not genuine enough to be really intense. This is not true in Shakespeare; Proteus's desire is so furious that he would actually rape Silvia if Valentine did not rescue her in extremis. When Shakespeare wrote his plays, the second-hand desire he portrays had no name, no official existence, but this is no longer true. We call it mimetic or mediated desire. Valentine is the model or mediator of this desire. Proteus is its mediated subject and Silvia is their common object. Mimetic desire can strike with the speed of lightning because it does not really depend upon the visual impact made by the object; it only seems to. Proteus desires Silvia not because their brief encounter made a decisive impression on him but because he is predisposed in favor of whatever Valentine desires. Mimetic desire is not some modern idea that I would force upon an unwilling writer; it is Shakespeare's own idea and we can see this again in Proteus's soliloquy, which keeps minimizing the role of perception in the genesis of his desire for Silvia: She is fair; and so is Julia that I love, That I did love, . . . (Il.iv. 199-200) IfSilvia is no more desirable objectively thanJulia, her only advantage is that Valentine already desires her. Shakespeare undermines the predominance of sight in the expression love at first sight. In A Midsummer Night's Dream as well, the two girls are said to be equally beautiful, also for the purpose of reinforcing the case for mimetic desire. II The dramatic context of this first mimetic desire, and of many others in Shakespeare, is the close and ancient friendship of the two protagonists . When Proteus is about to arrive in Milan, Valentine describes this friendship to Silvia and her father: I knew him as myself; for from our infancy We have convers'd and spent our hours together. (II.iv.62-63) René Girard233 When two young men grow up together, they learn the same lessons, they read the same books, they play the same games, and they agree on just about everything. They also tend to desire the same objects. This perpetual convergence is not incidental but essential to the friendship ; it occurs so regularly and inevitably that it seems preordained by some supernatural fate; it really depends on a mutual imitation so spontaneous and constant that it remains unconscious. When we think of imitation, we imagine two people copying each other's manners, habits, accents, and even their likes and dislikes in the still childish and innocent manner of two childish friends. We never think of what Proteus's desire for...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 231-247
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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