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THE only ascertained fact with which we are acquainted, in reference to "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 Gentlemen 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.
ANTONIO, Father to Proteus.
THURIO, a foolish rival to Valentine.
LAUNCE, the like to Proteus.
PANTHINO, Servant to Antonio.
The two Gentlemen.
Host, where Julia lodges.
JULIA, beloved of Proteus.
LUCETTA, Waiting-woman to Julia.
SCENE: sometimes in Verona; sometimes in Milan, and on the frontiers of Mantua.
1 This list of characters, with the heading, "The names of all the Actors," is printed at the end of the play in folio, 1623.
THE TWO GENTLEMEN
ACT I. SCENE I.
An open place in Verona.
Enter VALENTINE and PROTEUS.
Val. Cease to persuade, my loving Proteus:
To see the wonders of the world abroad,
Pro. Wilt thou begone? Sweet Valentine, adieu.
When thou dost meet good hap; and in thy danger,
Val. And on a love-book pray for my success.
Pro. Upon some book I love, I'll pray for thee. Val. That's on some shallow story of deep love, How young Leander cross'd the Hellespont.
Pro. That's a deep story of a deeper love, For he was more than over shoes in love.
Val. "Tis true; for you are over boots in love, And yet you never swam the Hellespont.
Pro. Over the boots? nay, give me not the boots'. Val. No, I will not, for it boots thee not.
Val. To be in love, where scorn is bought with groans; Coy looks, with heart-sore sighs; one fading moment's mirth,
With twenty watchful, weary, tedious nights:
Pro. So, by your circumstance you call me fool.
Val. Love is your master, for he masters you;
Pro. Yet writers say, as in the sweetest bud The eating canker dwells, so eating love Inhabits in the finest wits of all.
Val. And writers say, as the most forward bud
Even so by love the young and tender wit
nay, give me not the BOOTS.] A proverbial expression, not unfrequently met with in our old dramatists, signifying, don't make a laughing-stock of me. It seems to have no connection whatever with the punishment of the boots in Scotland, to which the commentators refer.
But wherefore waste I time to counsel thee,
Pro. And thither will I bring thee, Valentine.
Pro. All happiness bechance to thee in Milan.
Pro. He after honour hunts, I after love: He leaves his friends to dignify them more; I leave myself, my friends, and all for love. Thou, Julia, thou hast metamorphos'd me; Made me neglect my studies, lose my time, War with good counsel, set the world at nought, Made wit with musing weak, heart sick with thought.
Speed. Sir Proteus, save you. Saw you my master? Pro. But now he parted hence to embark for Milan. Speed. Twenty to one, then, he is shipp'd already, And I have play'd the sheep' in losing him.
Pro. Indeed a sheep doth very often stray, An if the shepherd be awhile away.
Speed. You conclude, that my master is a shepherd, then, and I a sheep1?
? To Milan let me hear from thee by letters,] This is merely an inversion of "Let me hear from thee by letters to Milan." The first folio reads "To Milan," which the second folio needlessly changes to " At Milan," &c.
3 And I have play'd the SHEEP] A play upon the resemblance in sound between the words "ship" and "sheep." In many parts of the country "sheep" is pronounced "ship." This joke is employed again in "The Comedy of Errors," Vol. ii. p. 150. In writings of the time "Sheep-street," in Stratford-upon-Avon, is often spelt Ship-street.
And I A sheep?] The indefinite article was added in the second folio.