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“ The Two Gentlemen of Verona” was first printed in the folio of 1623, where it occupies nineteen pages, viz. from p. 20 to p. 38, inclusive, in the division of “Comedies." It is there divided into Acts and Scenes. It also stands second in the later folios.
The only ascertained fact with which we are acquainted, in reference io · The Two Gentlemen of Verona,” is, that it is included in the list of Shakespeare's Plays which Francis Meres furnished in his Palladis Tamia, 1598. It comes first in that enumeration,
and although this is a very slight circumstance, it may afford some confirmation to the opinion, founded upon internal evidence of plot, style, and characters, that it was one of the earliest; if not the very earliest of Shakespeare's original dramatic compositions. It is the second play in the folio of 1623, where it first appeared, but that is no criterion of the period at which it was originally written.
It would, we think, be idle to attempt to fix upon any particular year: it is unquestionably the work of a young and unpractised dramatist, and the conclusion is especially inartificial and abrupt. It may have been written by our great dramatist very soon after he joined a theatrical company; and at all events we do not think it likely that it was composed subsequently to 1591. We should be inclined to place it, as indeed it stands in the work of Meres, immediately before "Love's Labour's Lost.” Meres calls it the “Gentlemen of Verona.” Malone, judging from two passages in the comedy, first argued that it was produced in 1595, but he afterwards adopted 1591 as the more probable date. The quotations to which he refers, in truth, prove nothing, either as regards 1595 or 1591.
If “The Two Gentlem of Verona" were not the offspring merely of the author's invention, we have yet to discover the source of its plot. Points of resemblance have been dwelt upon in connection with Sir Philip Sidney's “ Arcadia," 1590, and the “Diana” of Montemayor, which was not translated into English by B. Yonge until 1598; but the incidents, common to the drama and to these two works, are only such as might be found in other romances, or would present themselves spontaneously to the mind of a young poet: the one is the command of banditti by Valentine; and the other the assumption of male attire by Julia, for a purpose nearly similar to that of Viola in "Twelfth Night."* Extracts from the “Arcadia" and the “ Diana" are to be found in “Shakespeare's Library," vol. ii. The notion of some critics, that "The Two Gentlemen of Verona" contains few or no marks of Shakespeare's hand, is a strong proof of their incompetence to form a judgment.
DUKE OF Milan, Father to Silvia.
and on the frontiers of Mantua.
TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA.
Enter VALENTINE and PROTEUS.
Pro. Wilt thou begone? Sweet Valentine, adieu.
Val. And on a love-book pray for my success.
Val. That's on some shallow story of deep love,
Pro. That's a deep story of a deeper love, For he was more than over shoes in love.
Val. ’T is true; but you are over boots in love, And yet you never swam the Hellespont.
1 One who prays for another: the word is derived from the dropping of a bead in a rosary, at each prayer recited. % for: in f. e.