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TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA.
19 is one of Shakspeare's earliest if not his first play. It was not printed until 1623, but it is mentioned by Meres in his Wits' Treasury, printed in 1598. It bears strong internal marks of an early composition. Pope has observed, that “the style of this comedy is less figurative, and more natural and unaffected than the greater part of Shakspeare's, though supposed to be one of the first he wrote.“ Malone is inclined to consider this to be in consequence of that very circumstance, and that it is natural and unaffected because it was a youthfni performance.
,,Though many young poets of ordinary talents are led by false taste to adopt inflated and figurative language, why should we suppose thai such should have been the conree pursued by this master genius? The figurative style of Othello, Lear, and Macbeth, written when he was an established and long practised dramatist, may be ascribed to the additional knowledge of men and things which he had acquired during a period of fifteen years; in consequence of which his mind teemed with images and illustrations, and thoughts crowded so fast upon him, that the construction, in these and some other plays of a still later period, is much more difficult and involved than in the productions of his youth."
Hanner thought Shakspeare had no other hand in this play than the enlivening it with some speeches and lines, which , he thinks, are easily distinguished from the rest. Upton peremptorily asserts, “that if any proof can be drawn from manner and style, this play must be sent packing, and seek for its parent elsewhere." “How otherwise," says he, "do painters distinguish copies from originale, and have not authors their peculiar style and manner, froin which a true critic can form as unerring judgment as a painter ?". To this Johnson replies very satisfactorily: “I am afraid this illustration of a critic's science will not prove what is desired. A painter knows a copy froin an original by rules somewhat resembling those by which crities know a translation, which, if it be literal, and literal it must be to resemble the copy of a picture, will be easily distingnished. Cop.ee are known from originals, even when a painter capies his own picture ; so if an author should literally translate his work, he would lose the manner of an original. Upton confounds the copy of a picture with the imitation of a painter's manner. Copies are easily kuowa; but good imitations are not detected with equal certainty, and are, by the best judges, often mistaken. Nor is it true that the writer has always peculiarities equally distinguishable with those of the painter. The peculiar" manner of each arises from the desire, natural to every performer, of facilitating his subsequent work by recurrence to his foriner ideas ; this recurrenoe produces that repetition which is called habit. The painter, whose work is partly intellectual and partly manual, has habits of the mind, the eye, and the hand; the writer has only habits of the mind. Yet some painters have differed as much from themselves as from any other; and I have been
d, that there is little resemblance between the first works of Raphael and the last. The same variation may be expected in writers; and, if it be true, as it seems, that they are less subject to habit, the difference between their works may be yet greater."
“But by the internal marks of composition we may discover the author with probability, though seldom with certainty. When I read this play, I cannot but think that I find both in the serious and ludicrous scenes, the language and sentiments of Shakspeare. It is not indeed one of his most powerful effusions; it has neither many diversities of character, nor striking delineation of life ; but it abounds in zvojual beyond most of his plays, and few have more lines or pass. ges which , singly considered, are eminently beautiful. I am yet inclined to believe that it was not very successful, and suspect that it has escaped corruption, oniy because, being seldom played, it was less exposed io the hazards. of transcription."
Pope has set what he calls a mark of reprobation upon the low and trifling conceits which are to be found in this play It is true that the familiar scenes abound with quibbles and conceits;. but the poet must not be condemned for adopting a mode of writing admired by his contemporaries; they were not considered low and trifling in Shakspeare's age, but on the contrary were very generally admired and allowed for pure and genuine wit. Yet some of these scenes have much farcical drollery and invention : that of Launce with his dog in the fourth act is an instance, anil surely "Speed's mode of proving his master to be in love is neither deficient in wit or sense.'
“The tender scenes in this play, though not so highly wrought as in some others, have often much sweetness of sentiment and expression.". Schlegel says, “it is as if the world was obliged to accominodate itself to a transient youthful caprice, called love." Julia may be considered a light sketch of the lovely characters of Viola and Imogen. Her answer to Lucetta's advice against following her lover in disguise has been pointed out as a beantiful and highly poetical passage.
“That it should ever have been a question whether this comedy were the genuine and entire composition of Shakspeare appears to me very extraordinary," says Malone. “Hanmer and Upton never seem to have considered whether it were his first or one of his latest pieces :-is no allowance to be inade for the first flights of a young poet? nothing for the initation of a preceding celebrated dramatist *, which in some of the lower dialogues of this colùedy (and these only) may, I think be traced ?
But even these, as well as the other parts of the play, are perfectly Shakspearian (I do not say as finished and beautiful as any of his other pieces); and the same judgment mnst, I conceive , be pronounced coucerning the Comeds of Errors and Love's Labour's
* Malone points at Lilly, whose comedies were performed with great success and admiration previous to Shakspeare's commencement of bis dramatic career.
Lost, by every person who is intimately acquainted with bis manner of writing and thinking."
Sir William Blackstone observes, “that one of the great faults of the Two Gentlemen of Verona is the hastening too abruptly, and without preparation, to the dénouëment, which shows that it was one of Shakspeare's very early performances.' Dr. Johnson in bis concluding observations has remarked upon the geographical errors. They cannot be defended by attributing them to his youthful inexperience, for one of his latest productions is also liable to the same objection. To which Malone replies : "The truth, I believe, is, that as he neglected to observe the rules of the drama with respect to the unities, though before he began to write they had been enforced by Sidney in a treatise which doubtless he had read; so he seems to have thought that the whole terraqueous globe was at his command; and as he brought in a child at the beginning of a play, who in the fourth act appears as a woman, so he seems to have set geography at defiance, and to have considered countries as inland or maritime just as it suited his fancy or convenience."
Some of the incidents in this play may, be supposed to have been taken from The Arcadia, book I, ch. vi. where Pyrocles consents to head the Helots. The Arcadia was entered on the Stationers' books in 1588. The love adventure of Julia resembles that of Viola in Twelfth Night, and is indeed common to many of the ancient novels.
Mrs. Lennox informs us, that the story of Proteus and Julia might be taken from a similar one in “The Diana" of Montemayor, This pastoral romance was translated from the Spanish in Shakspeare's time, by Bartholomew Young, aud published in 1598. li does not appear that it was previously published, though it was translated two or three years before by one Thomas Wilson, perhaps some parts of it may have been made public, or Shakspeare may have found the tale elsewhere. It has before been observed that Meres mentiong the Two Gentlemen of Verona in his book, published in 1598. Malone conjectures that this play was the first that Shakspeare wrote, and places the date of its composition in the year 1591.
Duke of MILAN, Father to Silvia.
Gentlemen of Verona.
Julia, a Lady of Verona, beloved by Proteus. Silvia, the Duke's Daughter, beloved by Valentine. LUCETTA, Waiting woman to Julia.
SCENE, sometimes in VERONA; sometimes in Milan;
and on the frontiers of MANTUA.
Cease to persuade, my loving Proteus;
Pro. Wilt thou begone? Sweet Valentine, adieu! Think on thy Proteus, when thou, haply, seest Some rare note-worthy object in thy travel; Wish me partaker in thy happiness,
1 Milton has the same play upon words in his Comus :
“It is for homely features to keep home,
They had their names thence.“ 2 The expression shapeless idleness is admirably expressive, as implying that idleness prevents the giving forın' or 'character to he manners.