Solving the Ending

Let’s feature for discussion the famous lines at the end of the play around the extremely awkward attempted rape and how the gents are able to put it behind them.

The moment is eggy for everyone.  Julia has a tough swoon, Slivia has to bite her tongue, Valentine has to forgive the unforgivable, and Proteus has to be really, really, really sorry.

Let’s solve it.  Here are the words in question:


PROTEUS            In love

Who respects friend?

SILVIA            All men but Proteus.

PROTEUS            Nay, if the gentle spirit of moving words

Can no way change you to a milder form,

I’ll woo you like a soldier, at arms’ end,

And love you ‘gainst the nature of love,–force ye.

SILVIA            O heaven!

PROTEUS                    I’ll force thee yield to my desire.

VALENTINE            Ruffian, let go that rude uncivil touch,

Thou friend of an ill fashion!

PROTEUS            Valentine!

VALENTINE            Thou common friend, that’s without faith or love,

For such is a friend now; treacherous man!

Thou hast beguiled my hopes; nought but mine eye

Could have persuaded me: now I dare not say

I have one friend alive; thou wouldst disprove me.

Who should be trusted, when one’s own right hand

Is perjured to the bosom? Proteus,

I am sorry I must never trust thee more,

But count the world a stranger for thy sake.

The private wound is deepest: O time most accurst,

‘Mongst all foes that a friend should be the worst!

PROTEUS            My shame and guilt confounds me.

Forgive me, Valentine: if hearty sorrow

Be a sufficient ransom for offence,

I tender ‘t here; I do as truly suffer

As e’er I did commit.

VALENTINE            Then I am paid;

And once again I do receive thee honest.

Who by repentance is not satisfied

Is nor of heaven nor earth, for these are pleased.

By penitence the Eternal’s wrath’s appeased:

And, that my love may appear plain and free,

All that was mine in Silvia I give thee.

JULIA                        O me unhappy!  [swoons]


Do you think Valentine means that he would actually give away Silvia to his erstwhile friend, after all that?  Do you believe he means something else?  The passage is hot in question and I think completely up for grabs.  Which of these four characters can let us in on a side of the equation we may not be seeing in these lines to help explain them?

3 Responses to Solving the Ending

  1. Jamesrichardwallis November 14, 2011 at 10:49 pm #

    I think it relies heavily on the interpretation of the line “and that my love may appear plain and free/all that was mine in Sylvia I give thee”.

    To me I don’t feel that Valentine is giving over Sylvia in any physical way but forcing Proteus to feel the unconditional love, the oneness that Valentine feels to Sylvia (basically that they are one and the same person). That gift, the gift of other self, is given over to Proteus in order to lead him to repentance.

    Now as for the forgiving nature of Valentine after his former best friend Proteus tries to rape his love…not sure will have to keep reading

  2. mangomin December 22, 2011 at 7:52 pm #

    I never believe that Valentine’s offer is what it seems to be. Or maybe it’s that I don’t believe it can work that way on stage. I’ve always imagined playing it as a test–that Valentine is willing not to give up Sylvia but to allow Proteus one chance to pass the test of friendship and loyalty. I’m not sure it’s “authorial intent” to do it this way, but I think Valentine can play hints with “repentance” and “penitence” and that those hints (especially once Proteus is already ashamed to be so blatantly called out in public) are clear enough for Proteus to pick up on. And I agree with Jamesrichardwallis that Valentine’s “my love” is huge. And I think it might play as a challenge. Is Proteus’ love also “plain and free”? Will Proteus see what is right and act on it? Or will he “accept” Valentine’s “offer” and fail (and lose Sylvia, Valentine and Julia)? Again, I don’t think that’s Shakespeare’s intent, but I’ve always wanted to see it played that way.

    • Barclayarts December 31, 2011 at 12:49 pm #

      And now, so do I want to see it played that way. I hadn’t considered that, but it seems something that should definitely be tried in rehearsal. Well conjectured!

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