Subversion and Perversion in Two Gentlemen of Verona and the Jew of Malta

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Subversion and perversion are both prominently conveyed in both Two Gentlemen of Verona and The Jew of Malta through numerous mediums. Subversion entails the opposition to societal standards and authority whereas perversion occurs when morality and religious views are contradicted. The use of religiously symbolic objects, mockery, sexual innuendo, hypocrisy and irony are the focal matters used to express perversion and subversion in this essay. Often when a reader or the audience is shocked by themes and incidents occurring in plays, it is due to a feeling evoked when one is confronted with overt opposition to religion, morality, politics and society. Two Gentlemen of Verona make use of the mockery of upper-class pretentiousness, crude and inappropriate sexual innuendo to subvert and perverse the topic of marriage. Launce continually speaks disrespectfully of his master, subverting the social class order of classical Europe by which servants must speak of their superiors with deference and hold them in highest regard. This subverts the social hierarchy by the utilisation of mockery that belittles his master’s class. My interpretations lead me to believe that the staff in this scene, may well be in fact a metaphorical staff. That is, the staff is code for Launce’s phallus. This is a subversion in that it is socially unacceptable to speak in such a manner, therefore it contradicts societies’ etiquette, and it also is a perversion because it is morally incorrect and sacrilege to use a typically religiously significant tool as a phallic symbol. When Launce declares: “My staff understands me”, he compares his masculinity in sexual terms to intelligence. He tells Speed that his sexual drive and desire understands what he is saying, even if Speed does not. In this scene, the two men are discussing the coupling of their two masters. In light of the topic being discussed, Launce is undermining the religious union and institution of marriage by dismissing marriage as merely a union purely for sex, on the male’s behalf. By Launce’s expectations and definition of marriage, he is directly opposing the church which indicates a perversion. In Christianity, to enter into a marriage one must be chaste, so to compare sexuality to intelligence and define marriage as being only for the purpose of satisfying a man’s carnal desires is perverse. In the period that the play was set in, Elizabethan playwrights regarded Italy as the exotic counterpart amongst European countries of bursting at the seams with corruption, and inducing corruption in those who were new to the land. When Speed welcomes Launce to Italy, he replies that “...a man is never undone till he be hang’d”. This is Launce’s way of conveying the message that he will not feel a free member of society in Italy, unless he is welcomed sexually by a “hostess”. The feminine use of the word “hostess” is particularly significant as most words are given the masculine noun and the use of the feminine is relational to his sexual expectations of the city. This is a subversion of conservative European culture of the time. Speed’s reply to this statement entails that he will be well welcomed at the alehouse five thousand times. This shows their hope for a night of fornication. When Speed asks about the status of their master’s relationship, “...then how stands the matter with them?” Launce turns the conversation into one complete with crude jokes and sexual innuendo. He turns the traditional meaning of “stand” into an allusion of an erectile reference. Launce’s reply to Speed’s question entails that the union will be successful if the male is able to obtain an erection from her by sexual arousal. This implies that sexual attraction and arousal from only the male’s side is all that is required for the marriage to be held. This is overtly sexist, although that was not an issue in the Elizabethan audience at the time. However, this would still be considered as perverse by any audience as it is...
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