The Two Gentlemen of Verona (Vol. 74)


The Two Gentlemen of Verona

The first of Shakespeare's romantic comedies, The Two Gentlemen of Verona has been criticized for its problematic plot development and uneven verse. Mostly studied as an example of the fledgling playwright's early work, Verona has been disparaged by critics for several reasons. Scholars have been highly critical of the hasty ending of the play's last act—proof that either Shakespeare composed the play in a hurry to fill a gap in his theater company's repertoire or that he did not write the play at all. The authorship controversy is further intensified by the fact that The Two Gentlemen of Verona was apparently never performed during Shakespeare's lifetime. Also, there are no contemporary records of the play among Shakespeare's other surviving works. Regardless, the play does address many themes that are common to Shakespeare's other romantic comedies, placing it squarely in the courtly love tradition. Most modern scholarship on the play focuses on discussion of its shortcomings and its influence on Shakespeare's later works. Clifford Leech (1969) notes in his introduction to the Arden edition of The Two Gentlemen of Verona that, despite its problems, the play has many complex elements and should be studied as a guide to Shakespeare's later works, particularly The Merchant of Venice, Romeo and Juliet, and As You Like It.

Typical of romantic comedies, The Two Gentlemen of Verona focuses on relationships. In addition to the romantic relationships between the play's main protagonists, critics have also studied its other depictions of familial interactions. Richard J. Jaarsma (1972) notes that there are interesting parallels between the father-daughter relationships presented in The Two Gentlemen of Verona and King Lear. In particular, Jaarsma notes Lear's reaction to Cordelia's supposed lack of love for him and compares it to the Duke of Milan's reaction against Sylvia. Patriarchal and male-female relationships are also the focus of Lori Shroeder Haslem's (1994) essay discussing The Two Gentlemen of Verona and The Merchant of Venice. In particular, Haslem cites Verona as an example of a play that highlights the plight of women in a patriarchal world. Such women, Haslem argues, find release and closure only in the confines of private conversations with other women. Haslem also examines the contrast Shakespeare developed between the male and female worlds in his works—worlds in which female complicity and communication become central to maintaining the surrounding traditional, patriarchal structure.

As noted above, no account exists of The Two Gentlemen of Verona's performance during Shakespeare's lifetime. The first record of a performance of the play occurred a century and a half after his death, when David Garrick—a noted eighteenth-century actor and manager—directed an altered version of the play. In modern times, the play has seen a number of stagings, though most have been confined to British provincial and American regional theaters. In his review of a 1983 production of Verona by the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, Arthur Holmberg (1983) notes that this particular production helped him gain a new appreciation for Shakespeare's early works, and cites the intimacy of the small auditorium as one of the main reasons for the production's success. Gary Taylor (1999) reviews Richard Rose's 1998 Stratford Festival production of Verona. Taylor contends that although the production was imaginatively staged, it was unsuccessful at engaging the audience. Robert Smallwood (1999) lauds the 1998 Royal Shakespeare Company production of Verona directed by Edward Hall. Smallwood commends the production's interesting and complex interpretation of the play, particularly its powerful portrayal of the often troublesome final scene.

Criticism: Production Reviews

Arthur Holmberg (essay date spring 1983)

SOURCE: Holmberg, Arthur. “The Two Gentlemen of Verona: Shakespearean Comedy as a Rite of Passage.” Queen's Quarterly 90, no. 1 (spring 1983): 33-44.

[In the following review, Holmberg praises the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama production of The Two Gentlemen of Verona, noting that elaborate costumes and stage backgrounds are not necessary to enjoy an enthusiastic performance of this play.]

Drama is the one literary genre that cannot be properly appreciated in either a classroom or an armchair. It is conceived as a spectacle and written to be seen, and the word theater derives from the Greek verb to look at. I always begin...

(The entire section is 4929 words.)

Robert Smallwood (essay date 1999)

SOURCE: Smallwood, Robert. “Shakespeare Performances in England, 1998.” In Shakespeare Survey 52 (1999): 230-31.

[In the following excerpt, Smallwood lauds Edward Hall's staging of The Two Gentlemen of Verona, particularly the production's powerful interpretation of the play's final scene.]

Awkwardness, even ineptness, has been perceived also in The Two Gentlemen of Verona and this has led to its being regarded as Shakespeare's earliest comedy; it was certainly Edward Hall's directorial début at Stratford when his production opened in February and ‘double first’ turned out not to be too unapt for a searching, challenging production, with the...

(The entire section is 994 words.)

Gary Taylor (essay date autumn 1999)

SOURCE: Taylor, Gary. “Theatrical Proximities: The Stratford Festival 1998.” Shakespeare Quarterly 50, no. 3 (autumn 1999): 340.

[In the following excerpt, Taylor asserts that Richard Rose's production of The Two Gentlemen of Verona left the audience uninvolved and disengaged.]

The Two Gentlemen of Verona was jolly-on-a-trolley, full of high spirits, high voices, clever gimmicks, clever speeches. On at least one occasion it literally filled the Festival cavern: the first act ended and the intermission began with the sound of an airplane circling low overhead and leaflets dropping from the ceiling, which turned out to be “Wanted” posters for the...

(The entire section is 418 words.)