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Throughout The Two Gentlemen of Verona, scenes featuring Lance and his dog, Crab are juxtaposed with (and perhaps reference) interactions between the friends and lovers central to the plot. The primarily comic scenes in which Lance and Crab are present often illuminate problems in the relationships between the other characters in the play. Although Crab never speaks and is in fact a dog, his interactions with Lance as Lance explains them, mock the celebrated love between male friends and the much afflicting Petrarchan love that threatens it.
Much of the interaction between Lance and Crab throughout the play serve as referential to main plot, featuring the high-born lovers. They first appear together en route to board a vessel bearing Proteus to Milan. Upset by their approaching departure as well as by Crab’s apparent indifference, Lance claims;
I think Crab, my
dog, be the sourest-natured dog that lives. My mother weeping,
my father wailing, my sister crying, our maid howling, our cat
wringing her hands, and all our house in a great perplexity, yet
did not this cruel-hearted cur shed one tear. He is a stone, a
very pebble-stone, and has no more pity in him than a dog (2.3.4-9).
Lance’s excessive contrasting of Crab with each of the members of his house emphasizes Crab’s expressionless departure from them. Lance clearly does not seem to possess any misgivings about Crab’s indifference in relation to the fact that he is a dog, as Lance recounts the distress of his cat, who wrung her “hands” (2.3.7) which by her very nature, she cannot have done. Similarly, Crab likely does not weep because he cannot weep, a notion that Lance seems to overlook. Lance’s desire to see Crab weep is perhaps pertinent in that his speech occurs immediately following an exchange of vows between Proteus and Julia, before Proteus departs for Milan. Proteus remarks of the weeping (and now absent) Julia, “What, gone without a word? / Ay, so true love should do. It cannot speak” (2.2.16-7). That Proteus should make such a claim undermines his vows to Julia, as well as the Petrarchan mode of love, which aims to win the woman with words. Because of the proximity of the two scenes as well as a similar intent on weeping expressing true emotion, it is perhaps possible to read the interaction between man and dog as a mocking representation of the lovers and their separation. While neither Lance nor Crab seems to face detachment from a lover, Lance is nonetheless concerned with the manner in which one expresses a true emotion, such as sadness or regret.
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In this same speech in which he attempts to procure tears from Crab, Lance enacts a scene occurring earlier in the day at his home in which all present were visibly upset with the exception of Crab. During Lance’s production, in which he designates roles to his shoes, is a moment of uncertainty as to who should play whom: “I am the / dog. No, the dog is himself, and I am the dog. O, the dog is me, / and I am myself” (2.3.18-20). While this confusion on Lance’s part serves its comic purpose in his initial failure to designate the human role to himself and that of the dog to Crab, it perhaps continues the mockery of the speeches of the male lovers whose love causes them to forget themselves. In a soliloquy professing his love for Silvia, Valentine has similar moment of displaced selfhood, although one that is typical to the Petrarchan mode of love. Valentine proclaims, “To die is to be banished from myself, / And Silvia is my self. Banished from her / is self from self, a deadly banishment” (3.1.171-3). In order to express the unbearable notion of separation from Silvia, Valentine imposes his very self upon her, so that she becomes a necessary part of his being and existence. While Valentine does not exhibit confusion pertaining to his identity, his projection of his self onto the women he loves perhaps recalls Lance’s lucid conception of his self in relationship to Crab’s. The apparent absurdity present in the notion that Lance may play Crab while Crab plays Lance may be imposed upon the practice of lovers to claim that their selves reside within one another. That Lance cannot decide who shall play himself despite an apparent species boundary between himself and Crab is perhaps an extreme representation of Valentine’s later claim that Silvia is his self.
As the first appearance of Lance and Crab in the play reflects upon the practices of romantic lovers, their final appearance seems to question the principles of male friendship, which is celebrated throughout the play through the relationship between Proteus and Valentine. At this moment in the play, Lance and Crab enter recently departed from Silvia’s chambers, in which Lance has taken punishment for Crab, who has urinated in the presence of gentiles. Lance implores:
How many masters would do this for his servant? Nay, I’ll be
sworn I have sat in the stocks for puddings he hath stolen,
otherwise he had been executed. I have stood on the pillory
for geese he hath killed, otherwise he had suffered for’t.
Thou think’st not of this now. Nay, I remember the trick
you served me when I took my leave of Madam Silvia. Did not
I bid thee still mark me and do as I do? When didst thou see
me heave up my leg and make water against a gentlewoman’s
farthingale? Didst though ever see me do such a trick? (4.4.25-33).