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SCENE: Verona; Milan; the frontiers of Mantua.

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INTRODUCTION

THE Two Gentlemen of Verona was first printed in the Folio of 1623, as the second of the 'Comedies.' Meres mentioned it at the head of his list of Shakespeare's most excellent' comedies (under the title The Gentlemen of Verona), but there is no other evidence of its having been performed in Elizabethan times. Its subsequent history is almost a blank. A generation of Shakespeare-allusion-hunting has not turned up a single undoubted reference to or reminiscence of this play in seventeenth-century literature. During the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. it was performed, at long intervals (1762, 1784, 1790, 1808, 1821), usually with extensive farcical or operatic embellishments. Far superior in dramatic structure to Love's Labour's Lost, it certainly bears a fainter mark of Shakespeare's hand. Rowe and Theobald even denied that it was Shakespeare's at all.

Of external evidence for the date there is none, save the reference by Meres in 1598 already mentioned. But there can be no doubt that it belongs to the group of early comedies. The style, though far less persistently witty than that of Love's Labour's Lost, and probably less carefully elaborated, shows the same liking for verbal jingles, quibbles, antitheses, and parallelisms. The characters are arranged and

manipulated with a still more obvious eye for symmetry Proteus and Valentine have each a humorous serving-man; each is forced to leave his lady, each lady follows in disguise. And the comic business of Launce and Speed is still more obviously thrown in to provide 'recreation' than was that of Armado and Costard. A number of striking similarities in phrase and some in situation connect the play with the Midsummer-Night's Dream as also with Romeo and Juliet, and it doubtless belongs to the years immediately preceding these two masterpieces, i.e. probably 1592-94. Some critics of rank have indeed placed it after, on the ground that it is better constructed than the fairy drama (Furnivall), and freer from lyrical artifice than the greater Veronese play (Sarrazin).1 But the structure of the Dream, however apparently artless, is in reality controlled by a far subtler and more daring art than that which contrives the conventional plot of The Two Gentlemen; and the studied and sometimes bald simplicity of this play is distinguishable enough from the sovran ease and naturalness of manner which mark his verse in the later histories and comedies, where the high-wrought lyricism of Romeo and Juliet is definitely put by.

The story of The Two Gentlemen, like that of Love's Labour's Lost, was told by Shakespeare, so far as we know, for the first time. This does not prevent its being, save for the admirable creations of Launce and Speed, one of the least original of his plays. Both characters and incident belong by the clearest tokens to the family of Italian and Spanish intrigue stories which were already widely current in translated novels, and had begun, between 1580 and 1590, to compete with romantic histories, cumbrous Moralities and broad farce, for the favour of the more courtly 1 Jahrbuch, Bd. xxxii. 149 f.

and cultivated elements of the theatrical public. As early as 1566 Gascoigne had led the way with his excellent translation of Ariosto's I Suppositi, the basis. of the old Taming of a Shrew, and Giordano Bruno's Candelajo (1582), written during or shortly after his residence in England, has been credited with an influence upon English playwrights to which its merits hardly entitle it. Four such stories seem to have contributed to the design of The Two Gentlemen.

(1) The Diana of Jorge de Montemayor, an English translation of which by Yonge, first published in 1598, had existed in MS. from 1582. A play founded on this story, The History of Felix and Philiomena (for Felismena), had also been performed at Court in 1584, 'on the Sondaie next after newe yeares daie.' Shakespeare certainly drew, either from the novel or the play, some situations in the story of Julia and Proteus; in particular the scene (i. 2) in which Julia coquets with Proteus' letter, and her subsequent adventures in his pursuit and as a page in his service. The name Valerius, which Felismena assumes as page, has perhaps suggested that of Valentine's fellow outlaw (v. 3).

(2) But Felix is only a faithless lover, not, like Shakespeare's Proteus, at the same time a faithless friend. The adventures of Proteus at Milan, as the wooer of Valentine's mistress, and betrayer of Valentine himself, may well have been suggested by a play now known only in the German version of it used by the English actors abroad, the Comoedia von Julio und Hippolyta1 Its points of contact were first pointed out by Tieck. A Roman nobleman, Romulus, is accepted by an Italian prince as the fiancé of his

1 Printed 1620; reprinted in the scholarly selection of the Schauspiele der englischen Ko

mödianten in Deutschland, by J. Tittmann.

daughter Hippolyta. Forced to undertake a long journey before the marriage, he entrusts her to his 'true friend and brother,' Julius, that he may 'beguile the time with pleasant discourse.' But Julius is himself in love with Hippolyta, and forges letters purporting that Romulus has engaged himself elsewhere. Hippolyta then consents to marry him, and the marriage is just complete when Romulus returns. A tragic dénoûment ensues.1

With this motive of the faithless friend, however, Shakespeare has further interwoven that of one even extravagantly generous in friendship. Valentine's offer (in v. 4) to surrender Silvia to the man who has just proposed to outrage her belongs to the pre-Shakespearean period of Shakespeare's art. It certainly lacks not only psychological truth-the sure grasp of which chiefly distinguishes Shakespearean romance from that of other men, but even psychological plausibility. Many stories of similar type were, however, in vogue. An abject extremity of self-sacrifice was well known to the medieval romances, and Boccaccio, no idealist, devoted a tenth part of the Decameron to stories of 'extraordinary generosity,' some of them hardly more palatable than this incident to modern sentiment. That of Tito and Gisippo (x. 8), where Gisippo resigns his bride to Tito (a loyal friend, however), had been introduced by Sir T. Elyot into the Governour as an example of ideal friendship, and was highly popular. But when he wrote this play Shakespeare was probably himself under the spell of an exalted friendship. Take all my loves, my love, yea take them all!' he exclaims in Sonnet XL. to his false friend. In such a mood as Valentine's sudden access may have seemed to need none of the

1 The resemblances noticed in this and the following section

have been worked out by Zupitza, Jahrbuch, xxiii. 1 f.

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