SHAKESPEARE AND THE LEVITATION MAGIC TRICK. Before I saw the Shakespeare on the Sound production, I had thought that the most likely explanation of Valentine’s offer to give his beloved to his friend was Tanner’s explanation—that Shakespeare was questioning literary conventions. This production played differently than I had imagined.
The analogy that came to me the night after I saw the play was to the trick by which the illusionist Doug Henning (in a show that ran four years on Broadway) hypnotized and levitated his assistant, who floated overhead near the ceiling in a rigid position. I had read a book about illusionists when I was a boy, and I was on the alert for a gooseneck shaped wire. Henning passed a hoop above the assistant to demonstrate that there were no wires being used. In the middle of passing the hoop, the assistant’s arm suddenly dropped straight down, to great audience laughter. Henning replaced the arm and resumed with the hoop in a different place.
In the text of Two Gentlemen, immediately after Valentine offers to give his beloved to his friend, Julia (in disguise as a boy) exclaims, “O me unhappy” and swoons. The next line is “Look to the boy”. Everybody on stage and everybody in the audience looks at the boy and forgets what Valentine has said. Events move rapidly in a different direction. Shakespeare has presented both sides of the issue of whether love or friendship is more important, and there is a happy ending (“One feast, one house, one mutual happiness”).
The way the play worked was in the text. It was Shakespeare who wrote in the diversion of Julia fainting immediately after Valentine makes his bizarre offer (the “blunder”).