« ZurückWeiter »
If we are wise enough to take this play as Falstaff preferred his sack, "simple of itself," without afflicting ourselves with the consideration that it is not so poetical as some effusions of the great master, nor so humorous as others, we shall be worthily rewarded with the conviction that it is still poetical and humorous in an eminent degree. The characters are excellently diversified and contrasted; the language of the serious portion is beautiful in sentiment, and harmonious in versification; and the humor substantially rich, deformed as it may be with a somewhat inordinate proportion of that verbal quibbling which, in Shakspeare's day, was considered a genuine article in the mart of wit, although by modern taste deemed counterfeit. It must, however, be recollected that the illegitimate smartness is, for the most part, confined to the lower characters of the present drama; and that this species of humor, whatever its inferiority of cast, is still, if moderately administered, provocative of many a burst of genuine laughter, both on and off the stage. Nor is its genial influence confined to the weak or illiterate. What Swift says of vanity may be with equal truth applied to punning :
* T is an old maxim in the schools,
That vanity's the food of fools;
Will condescend to take a bit.” It seems all but certain that the “ Two GENTLEMEN OF VERONA” is mainly founded on a similar story, which occurs in the “DIANA” of George of Montemayor; - a highly popular Spanish romance. That portion of the “DIANA" which appears to have been appropriated by Shakspeare, is the story of Felismena; the incidents of which too much resemble those that befall Julia and Proteus, to admit the supposition that the coincidence was accidental.
This play was originally printed in the first folio edition of the author's works (1623), seven years after his death. Malone supposes it to have been written in 1591, and that it was Shakspeare's first production for the stage. There is a strong probability, however, that it was composed some years earlier, as it is not easy to imagine that a dramatic faculty so wonderful as his should have lain dormant until he had attained the age of twenty-seven. It appears, from Mr. Collier's valuable researches, that in 1589, when Shakspeare was twenty-five only, he had become a joint proprietor in the Blackfriars Theater; and as his acting talent, in all likelihood, was but moderate, there can scarcely remain a doubt that he had, at that early period, raised himself to importance with his brethren by his transcendant genius for dramatic poetry, whether developed in working on the foundation laid by inferior artists, or in the production of fabrics altogether original.
It is neither easy nor material to assign any precise date for the supposed action of the “ Two GENTLEMEN OP VERƠNA.” The duchy and city of Milan, for many years prior to Shakspeare's time, formed part of the dominions of the House of Austria. The emperor occasionally held his court there (as he is said to do in the early part of the play), and the dukes were his tributaries. As, however, the imagination delights to found its fictions on a ground of fact, we may fairly suppose, with an intelligent contemporary, that the transactions here detailed took place in the early part of the sixteenth century, when Charles the Fifth was Emperor of Austria, and Francesco Sforza Duke of Milan.