The Two Gentlemen of Verona
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The Two Gentlemen of Verona is a comedy by William Shakespeare from early in his career. It is regarded by most critics as inferior and is seldom performed today. The highlight of the play is considered by many to be the comic servingman Launce and his dog Crab.
Date, Performance, Publication
The date of composition is uncertain, although it is commonly believed to have been one of Shakespeare's earliest works. The play is believed to have been written in the early 1590s, although the first evidence of its existence is in Francis Meres's list of plays, published in 1598. It was not printed until 1623 when it appeared in the First Folio of Shakespeare's plays.
There is no record of a performance in Shakespeare's era, down to the closing of the theatres in 1642. The earliest known performance occurred at Drury Lane in 1762, with augmented parts for Launce and his dog. The straight Shakespearean text was performed at Covent Garden in 1784; Frederic Reynolds staged an operatic version in 1821.
The play has been produced sporadically, but with little success in the English-speaking world; it has proved more popular in Europe.
The two gentlemen are Valentine and Proteus. Valentine leaves Verona to visit Milan to gain life experience. He leaves behind his best friend, Proteus, first chiding Proteus for concentrating more on matters of love than matters of the mind. As fate would design it, Proteus' father agrees with Valentine and soon sends Proteus to Milan. After a tearful goodbye with his beloved, Julia, Proteus finds Valentine in love with Silvia, the daughter of the Duke. Unfortunately, Proteus also falls for Silvia and does everything he can to clear his own path to her. While Proteus is figuring out how to win Silvia over, back in Verona, Julia decides to join her lover and travels to Milan dressed as a boy. There she discovers Proteus' betrayal and becomes his page until she can figure out what to do. The play concludes in a tense confrontation in a forest, where Proteus attempts to rape Silvia. Valentine saves her, but then 'gives' her to Proteus in the name of friendship. Julia faints, revealing her identity in the process. Proteus remembers his love for Julia and returns to her. In the comic subplot, even Launce finds romance, whereupon he devises a comic resume of the attributes of a lower-class girl "whose faults exceed her hairs."
The ultimate source for the play is the story of Felix and Felismena in Diana, a collection of stories by the Portuguese writer Jorge de Montemayor. Shakespeare could have read this in translation, but a play (now lost) based on the story is known to have been performed by the Queen's Men in 1585, and so Two Gents may simply be an adaptation of that play.
A major theme of the play is the contest between friendship and love: that is, the question of whether the relationship between two male friends is more important than that between lovers. This is a common theme in Renaissance literature, since some aspects of the culture of the time celebrated friendship as the more important relationship (because it is pure and unconcerned with sexual attraction). This partly helps explain the bizarre sequence in which Valentine 'gives' Silvia to Proteus out of friendship, without even asking her.
Connections with Shakespeare's other work
- Valentine's attempt at rescuing Silvia from her controlling father, and his subsequent banishment, is distantly reminiscent of what happens to Romeo in Romeo and Juliet.
- Shakespeare returned to the subject of close friends fighting over a woman at the very end of his career, in The Two Noble Kinsmen.
- Valentine's and Silvia's plan to elope in the night and their interactions with Proteus and Julia in the forest, are reminiscent of A Midsummer Night's Dream.
- This could very well be the first play where Shakespeare utilized the plot device of having a female disguise herself as a male, later used in such plays as As You Like It and Twelfth Night.
- Launce is noted to have many similarities with the character Launcelot Gobbo, from The Merchant of Venice. Not only are their names similar but also their manners of speech, their occupations, and their similar dramatic functions in their respective plays. They were almost certainly played by the same actor, William Kempe.
Two Gents in popular culture
- Galt MacDermot, John Guare and Mel Shapiro adapted the show into a musical that opened on December 1, 1971 and closed May 20, 1973
- Stuart Draper adapted the play into a gay version called Two Gentlemen of Verona which played at the Greenwich Playhouse Spring 2004
- ^ F. E. Halliday, A Shakespeare Companion 1564-1964, Baltimore, Penguin, 1964; p.506.
- The Two Gentlemen of Verona - plain text from Project Gutenberg
- The Two Gentlemen of Verona - HTML version of this title.
- The Two Gentlemen of Verona musical - The script to the MacDermot-Guare-Shapiro musical adaptation.