Let’s take a closer look at Lance’s monologue from The Two Gentlemen of Verona by William Shakespeare.
Coming from a family of servants, Lance is one of two servants in The Two Gentlemen of Verona and this is the audience’s first encounter with him. He may also sometimes be written as ‘Launce’.
As Lance journeys away from his home toward the imperial court, he laments the lack of empathy shown by Crab, his dog; at the sorrowful parting with Lance’s family.
Language and Thought Breakdown
Written in prose, this is a really great piece for those looking to work on their clowning skills. As you do not have to adhere to any verse, there is great freedom that can come from playing with emotional changes and also variation in pace and rhythm. An example of clownishness common to Shakespeare was the use of malapropism. Malapropism is the mistaken use of a similar-sounding word in the place of the correct one. In this case, Lance uses the term ‘prodigious’ where he most likely meant ‘prodigal’. Another example is ‘proportion’ when Lance actually means ‘portion’ in reference to his inheritance.
What stands out to me is the plethora of thought changes that are crucial to this piece. The short sentences mean that his mind is chopping and changing at a rapid rate. It is part of what makes this character comical. I do think it’s important to remember, at first to go slow and think one thing at a time (how could you do anything else!?) But that is the trick – to not get ahead of yourself; even if the character appears to do so.
Punctuation in Shakespeare’s plays is not concrete, in that, nobody truly knows exactly what it was and where it went. Clowns of the time tended to improvise and change the script, as they might do today. I’ve looked through numerous texts and found that the RSC version to be one of the most useful as a rough guide. If you feel that you’d like to shift the punctuation, have seen a version you prefer, or you would like to throw it out the window entirely, that is up to you. However, I suggest that regardless of where you think punctuation goes, that you keep all your thoughts and thought changes very clear.
You’ll notice some of my ‘translating’ of Shakespeare language hasn’t been changed at all from the original. It is a wonderfully simple script; a fun one to have in your back pocket if you need it.
Let’s take a look at a closer breakdown of the text to see what is revealed about the character.
Thought Change: /
Beat Change: Space
Feminine Ending: (F)
Launce Monologue (Original Text)
Launce: Nay, ’twill be this hour ere I have done weeping; / all the kind of the Lances have this very fault. / I have received my proportion, like the prodigious son, and am going with Sir Proteus to the Imperial’s court. /
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. / A Jew would have wept to have seen our parting. / Why, my grandam, having no eyes, look you, wept herself blind at my parting. / Nay, I’ll show you the manner of it. / (Launce takes off his right shoe)
This shoe is my father. / (Launce takes off his left shoe) No, this left shoe is my father. / No, no, this left shoe is my mother. / Nay, that cannot be so neither. / Yes, it is so, it is so; it hath the worser sole. / This shoe, with the hole in it, is my mother, and this my father. / A vengeance on’t, there ’tis! / Now, sir, this staff is my sister, for, look you, she is as white as a lily and as small as a wand. / This hat is Nan, our maid. / I am the dog. / No, the dog is himself, and I am the dog. / O, the dog is me, and I am myself. / Ay, so, so. /
Now come I to my father. / Father, your blessing: now should not the shoe speak a word for weeping. / Now should I kiss my father: / well, he weeps on. / Now come I to my mother: / O, that she could speak now like a wood woman! / Well, I kiss her. /Why, there ’tis; here’s my mother’s breath up and down. / Now come I to my sister; /mark the moan she makes. /
Now the dog all this while sheds not a tear nor speaks a word; / but see how I lay the dust with my tears. /
To help you understand this piece, I’m going to give you a modern translation:
Launce: No, it will be an hour before I’ve finished crying; / all of my family – the Lances – suffers this same weakness. / I have received my inheritance, like the prodigious son from the parable, and am going with Sir Proteus to the Imperial’s court. /
I think Crab, my dog, is the worst natured dog that lives: / my mother was weeping, / my father was wailing, / my sister was crying, / our maid was howling, / our cat was wringing her hands and the whole house in a great frenzy of sadness, / yet this cruel-hearted mongrel didn’t shed a single tear. / He is a rock, a tiny little rock and has no more pity in him and a dog. / Even a Jewish person would have cried to see me leaving my family. / Even my grandma who doesn’t have eyes, do you hear, would have cried herself blind at our parting. / No, I’ll show you what happened. / (Launce takes off his right shoe)
This shoe is my father. / (Launce takes off his left shoe) No wait, this left shoe is my father. / No, no this left shoe is my mother. / No that can’t be it either. / Yes, it is, it is; because it has the worser sole. / This shoe with the hole in it is my mother and this one is my father. / Damn it, there it is! / Now sir, this stick is my sister, because, look, she is as white as a lily and as thin as a twig. / This hat is Nan, our maid. / I am the dog. / No, the dog is himself and I am the dog. / Oh, the dog is me and I am myself. / Yes. so, so. /
Now I come to my father. / Father I ask for your blessing: / Now the shoe cannot speak a word because it’s crying. / Now will I kiss my father: / well, he keeps crying. / Now I come to my mother: / Oh if only she could speak now like a madwoman! / Well, I kiss her. / Well, here I go; / here’s my mother’s disgusting breath exactly. / Now I come to my sister. / Make note of the moan she makes. /
Now the dog this whole time doesn’t shed a single tear or speak a word; / but see how much I dampen the ground with my tears. /
Unfamiliar Words & Phrases
Lance: Name derived from the French, Lancelot. This is where we get the famous name Lancelot; meaning ‘servant’ or ‘attendant’.
T’will: It will.
Prodigious: This is an example of malapropism. What Lance most likely meant to say was ‘Prodigal’: The prodigal son is one of Jesus’ parables from the bible about a son who left home with his inheritance, spent it all, only to return to his father with nothing and yet received forgiveness.
Proportion: Another example of Malapropism. Lance means to say ‘portion’, as in, his inheritance or his allowance.
Jew: Jews were considered to not show any pity. This is a problematic line. “A Jew would have wept to have seen our parting”. The suggestion is that Jewish people are cold hearted and without emotion. The line is often cut from the script as it is an example of the casual racism and anti-Semitism that Shakespeare and other playwrights of the time were prone to. If you want to let the line stand and allow the character to be as written by Shakespeare that is your choice. A simple solve I suggest is to cut it from your script.
Crab: Possibly a reference to a crab-apple which is a sour fruit.
Sole: This is a pun on ‘soul’.
Hole: Possible play on reference to ‘vagina’.
A Vengeance on it: An oath or perhaps a curse.
Staff: A stick, probably a walking stick.
Wand: A very skinny stick or branch.
Wood: Mad, crazed, moved or emotional. Also perhaps a play on the fact the Lance’s shoes were made with wood and he is speaking to his shoe.
Mother’s breath up and down: Smelling the shoe, Lance remarks that it’s exactly like the breath of his mother.
Mark: Make note of.
Lay the dust with tears: To wet the ground with tears.
Notes on Performance
Nonsensical and ridiculous; Lance is a loveable idiot who is unknowingly funny and most of it at his own expense. What I like about this monologue is that the play just stops for a minute. Shakespeare is aware of when to give the audience a little rest and so the plot halts and we get to enjoy some slapstick idiocy at Lance’s introduction. I think when playing the role it’s important to understand the function of the character that you’re portraying.
There are two clowns in this play, Speed and Launce. A happy one and a sad one. Understanding the function of your role is crucial here. Speed is just that – quick-witted and onto his duties. Therefore we can deduce that Lance is the opposite; slower intellectually, sad and perhaps not so great at his job. That’s not to say he is without energy. But the energy may come from trying to work through his initial sadness and having a great need or desire to share his experience.
Crab has been played in as many ways as you can imagine. A real dog, a fake one, a person playing a dog, fluffy toy; you name it. All of which I’m sure gives great laughs for different reasons at every moment. It’s up to you to decide what kind of Crab you’d like and how you use Crab during the monologue. I’ve even seen in different textual copies of the script ‘sir’ replaced by ‘sit’, perhaps indicating in that variation, Lance was referring to Crab, asking him to sit down, shut up and listen. I think this could potentially be a great choice and very funny if you can make it work. I’ll leave it up to you.
As I mentioned, this is a fantastic opportunity for anyone who wants to practice their clowning skills and with such brilliantly simple text, why not give it a crack? Good luck!