Page images




The First Edition. The Two Gentlemen of Verona first appeared in the Folio of 1623, where it immediately follows The Tempest, and occupies pp. 20-38; no evidence exists for an earlier edition. A list of the Dramatis Personæ, "The Names of all the Actors," is given at the end of the play. The text is on the whole free from corruptions; the most remarkable errors occur in II. v. 1; III. i. 81; V. iv. 129; where ‘Padua ' and Verona' are given instead of Milan.' These inaccuracies are probably due to Shakespeare's MS.; the poet had evidently not revised this play as carefully as his other early efforts.

Several critics are inclined to attribute the final scene to another hand; it bears evident signs of hasty composition, and Valentine's renunciation comes as a shock to one's sensibilities. It must however be borne in mind that the theme of Friendship versus Love was not uncommon in Elizabethan literature; perhaps the best example is to be found in the plot of Lyly's Campaspe,' where Alexander magnanimously resigns the lady to Apelles. Shakespeare in his Sonnets XL., XLI., XLII., makes himself enact the part of Valentine to his Protean friend :

"Take all my loves, my love, yea, take them all;
What hast thou then more than thou hadst before?
No love, my love, that thou mayst true love call,
All mine was thine before thou hadst this more."

Date of Composition.

The only allusion to the play previous to its insertion in the First Folio is in the Palladis Tamia, 1598, where Meres places it first among the six comedies mentioned. Its date cannot be definitely fixed. The following general considerations place it among the earliest of Shakespeare's productions, i.e. circa 1590-1592:—the symmetrical arrangement of the characters; the unnaturalness of some of its incidents, especially the abrupt dénouement; the finely finished regularity

of the blank verse, suggestive of lyrical rather than of dramatic poetry, and recalling the thoughts and phraseology of the sonnets (I. i. 45-50 and Sonnets LXX., xcv.; IV. iv. 161 and Sonnet cxxvii.); the alternate rhymes; the burlesque doggerel; the quibbles; and the fondness for alliteration. Many notes' in the play seem to prelude Romeo and Juliet, and the influence of the story, as though the poet were already meditating a drama on the theme, is one of the striking characteristics of the play.


Sources of the Play. The greater part of the play seems ultimately derived from the Story of the Shepherdess Filismena in the Diana of Jorge de Montemayor (a Portuguese poet and novelist, 1520-1562). Bartholomew Yonge's translation of the work, though published in 1598, was finished some sixteen years before (cp. Shakespeare's Library, ed. Hazlitt, vol. I. part i.). There were other translations of the whole or part of the romance by Thomas Wilson (1595-6) and by "Edward Paston, Esquire" (mentioned by Yonge).

Probably Shakespeare was not directly indebted to Montemayor; as early as 1584-5 a play was acted at Greenwich "on the Sondaie next after newe yeares daie at night,” entitled The History of Felix and Philiomena; where Felix is certainly the "Don Felix" of the Diana, and "Philiomena" is a scribal error for "Filismena." Shakespeare's play may very well have been based on this earlier production.

A similar theme, with a tragic dénouement, is to be found in the Comadia von Julio und Hippolyta, a play acted by the English actors in Germany, preserved only in a German paraphrase (cp. Schauspiele der englischen Komödianten in Deutschland, ed. J. Tittmann; also, Zupitza, 66 Shakespeare Jahrbuch," xxiii.).

Bandello's Novel of Appolonius and Sylla, which was translated by Riche (1581), may have suggested certain incidents (cp. Hazlitt's Shakespeare's Library, Vol. I. part i.); Sidney's Arcadia (Book I. ch. vi.)—itself greatly indebted to Montemayor's Diana, Sidney's favourite book-may possibly be the original of Valentine's consenting to lead the robber-band, and the speech at the beginning of the scene (V. iv.) in praise of Solitude may also have been suggested by a passage in the same book.

The Form of the Play. In order to understand the form of The Two Gentlemen'-probably the first of Shakespeare's plays dealing with love-intrigue the reader must remember that it links itself to the preShakespearian romantic dramas based on Italian love-stories; but these earlier dramas are rare. The best example of the kind extant is without doubt a very scarce production, registered in the books of the Stationers'

Company 1584 (and printed soon after), entitled "Fidele and Fortune: the Receipts in Love discoursed in a Comedie of ij Italian Gentlemen, translated into English" (by A. M., i.c. probably Anthony Munday). This crude effort may certainly be regarded as one of the most valuable of the prototypes of the Shakespearian romantic plays; it has hitherto been strangely neglected; (p. Extracts, printed by Halliwell in his "Illustrations to the Literature of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries "*). One is inclined to think that Shakespeare is indebted for something more than the title of his first love-play to "The Two Italian Gentlemen." In this connection it is perhaps noteworthy that Meres, as early as 1598, and Kirkman, as late as 1661, mention Shakespeare's play as The Gentlemen of Verona.' This was perhaps customary in order to distinguish it from Munday's translated drama.

Forward-Links. The play contains many hints of incidents and characters more admirably developed in later plays; e.g. the scenes between Julia and her maid Lucetta at Verona anticipate the similar talk between Portia and Nerissa at Belmont; Julia's disguise makes her the first of Shakespeare's best-beloved heroines, Portia, Jessica, Rosalind, Viola, Imogen; Valentine's lament (Act III. sc. i. ll. 170-187), with its burden of "banished," is heard again as Romeo's death-knell; the meeting of Eglamour and Silvia at Friar Patrick's cell suggests the meeting-place of the two star-crossed lovers at Friar Laurence's.

Launcelot Gobbo owes much to his namesake Launce, and something also to Speed, whose description of the various signs whereby one may know a lover finds development in the character of Benedick.

Duration of Time. The Time covered is seven days on the stage, with intervals between scenes and acts:-Day 1: Act I. sc. i. and ii.; interval of a month or perhaps sixteen months (cp. iv. 1-21). Day 2: Act I. sc. iii. and Act II. sc. i. Day 3: Act II. sc. ii. and iii.; interval, Proteus's journey to Milan. Day 4: Act II. sc. iv. and v.; interval of a few days. Day 5: Act II. sc. vi. and vii., Act III. and Act IV. sc. i.; interval, including Julia's journey to Milan. Day 6: Act IV. sc. ii. Day 7: Act IV. sc. iii. and iv. and Act V. (cp. Daniel, New Shakespeare Society's Transactions, 1877-79).

* Halliwell printed certain scenes in order to illustrate the witchcraft in Macbeth; it is remarkable that he did not notice the real value of the play.

[blocks in formation]
« PreviousContinue »