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"THE Two GENTLEMEN OF VERONA' was first printed in the folio collection of Shakspere's plays, edited by John Heminge and Henry Condell, and published in 1623, seven years after his death. The text is singularly correct. There are not more than half a dozen passages of any real importance upon which a doubt can be entertained, if printed according to the original. It is, in all probability, a play written very early in Shakspere's life.
The scene of this play is, in the first act, at Verona, and afterwards chiefly at Milan. The action is not founded upon any historical event. The one historical fact mentioned in this play is that of the emperor holding his court at Milan, which was under the government of a duke, who was a vassal of the empire. Assuming that this fact prescribes a limit to the period of the action, we must necessarily place that period at least half a century before the date of the composition of this drama.
The incident of Julia following her lover in the disguise of a page, and her subsequent knowledge of his faithlessness, is common enough in the old Italian and Spanish novels. In the Diana' of Montemayor, a Spanish romance, which was translated in 1598, we find this resemblance to some scenes of the Two Gentlemen of Verona.' Indeed, in some turns of expression the dialogue is similar. The knowledge of
Spanish was pretty widely diffused in England in Shakspere's youth; and we must not too readily fall in with the notion that such a book could not be accessible to him without a translation.
Pope calls the style of "The Two Gentlemen of Verona' “simple and unaffected.” It was opposed to Shakspere's later style, which is teeming with allusion upon allusion. With the exception of the few obsolete words, and the unfamiliar application of words still in use, this comedy has a very modern air. The thoughts are natural and obvious, the images familiar and general. The most celebrated passages have a character of grace rather than of beauty; the elegance of a youthful poet aiming to be correct. Johnson considered this comedy to be wanting in “diversity of character.” The action, it must be observed, is mainly sustained by Proteus and Valentine, and by Julia and Silvia; and the conduct of the plot is relieved by the familiar scenes in which Speed and Launce appear. The other actors are very subordinate, and we scarcely demand any great diversity of character amongst them; but it appears to us, with regard to Proteus and Valentine, Julia and Silvia, Speed and Launce, that the characters are exhibited, as it were, in pairs, upon a principle of very defined though delicate contrast.
Act v. sc. 2; se. 4.
VALENTINE. Appears, Act I. sc. 1. Act II. sc. l; sc. 4. Act III. sc. 1.
Act IV. sc. 1. Act V. sc. 4.
PROTEUS. Appears, Act I. sc. l; sc. 3. Act II. sc. 2; se. 4; se. 6. Act III. sc. 1; sc. 2. Act IV. sc. 2; sc. 4.
Act V. sc. 2; sc. 4.
Act V. sc. 2; sc. 4.
Act III. sc. 1. Act IV. sc. I.
Act V. sc. 1; sc. 3; sc. 4.
SCENE-IN VERONA, IN MILAN, AND ON THE FRONTIERS OF MANTUA.
In the original edition of 1623 the Persons Represented are thus described :
} the two Gentlemen.
DUKE, father to Silvia.
LAUNCE, the like to Proteus.
Val. Cease to persuade, my loving Proteus“;
Home-keeping youth have ever homely wits;
Even as I would, when I to love begin.
Think on thy Proteus, when thou, haply, seest
* In the original this proper name is invariably spelt Protheus.