The Two Gentlemen of Verona (Vol. 74)
The Two Gentlemen of Verona
For further information on the critical and stage history of The Two Gentlemen of Verona, see SC, Volumes 6, 12, 40, 54, and 63.
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
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 lectures on Shakespeare or any other dramatist with an exhortation to my students to see plays in performance as often as possible. All wise saws, however, tend to lose their edge of truth, and Dr Johnson once remarked that men “need not so much to learn as to be reminded.” A recent production of The Two Gentlemen of Verona demonstrated to me once again how essential the theatrical experience is to our understanding of any dramatic text.
Some enclaves, however, still exist in the academic community that consider going to the theater intellectually irrelevant. Not long ago I overheard one of the leading authorities on Shakespearean texts express chagrin over the fact that US Public Television in collaboration with...
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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 alleged ineptnesses, especially in the final moments, an important part of the challenge. The journey of the play was marked by two single-gender, non-sexual embraces: at the end of the first scene by a valedictory hug of separation, expected all through the scene, between the leading men, Proteus and Valentine; at the end of the last scene, by an embrace of welcome and union, expected all through the scene, between the leading women, Julia and Sylvia. The embraces framed the intervening account of the awkwardnesses and inadequacies of the play's heterosexual relationships.
Hall's modern-dress production presented us with a rich and trivial society, Julia's and Lucetta's rather callous assessment of the former's suitors...
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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 fugitive Valentine. And the opening scene imaginatively and economically established the play's social world: a championship-hockey-team photo shoot, followed by Graham Abbey's jock-Valentine and David Jansen's nerd-Proteus circling each other on the ice. But it was downhill from there. Richard Rose's production wasn't nearly as funny, or as real, as Monette's Much Ado or as the RSC's 1998 revival of Two Gentlemen. In the Swan, director Edward Hall set the RSC version in contemporary Italy, among people with a lot of money, a lot of arrogance, and no emotional maturity. It all made sense in an alternately amusing and appalling way.
Richard Rose, by contrast, seemed to have no faith in the play; it was as though...
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Criticism: Overviews And General Studies
SOURCE: Leech, Clifford. Introduction to The Arden Edition of the Works of William Shakespeare: The Two Gentlemen of Verona, edited by Clifford Leech, pp. lii-lxxv. London: Methuen and Co., 1969.
[In the following excerpt, Leech presents a critical evaluation of The Two Gentlemen of Verona, including an analysis of plot and characters, as well as an evaluation of the play's place among Shakespeare's other works.]
VI. THE COMEDY
The Two Gentlemen of Verona has been the recipient of indulgence rather than praise. Rowe, noting that it immediately follows The Tempest in the Folio, was sure that it was written long before that play: ‘if his Fire may be suppos'd to abate in his Age, yet certainly his Judgment increas'd, but most of the Faults of this Play are Faults of Judgment more than Fancy.’1 He added that ‘Silvia and the rest’ do not behave themselves ‘like Princes, Noblemen or the Sons and Daughters of such’.2 Pope praised the style as ‘less figurative, and more natural and unaffected, than the greater Part of this Author's, though suppos'd to be one of the first he wrote’, yet took exception to ‘the lowest and most trifling conceits’ in it, which he attributed to ‘the gross taste of the age he liv'd in’.3 For Theobald, it was simply ‘One of the very worst’ of...
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SOURCE: Rowse, A. L. Introduction to The Contemporary Shakespeare Series: Antony and Cleopatra, Measure for Measure, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Troilus and Cressida, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Vol. V, edited by A. L. Rowse, pp. 505-10. Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1986.
[In the following essay, Rowse provides a brief overview of The Two Gentlemen of Verona, tracing a connection between contemporary events in Shakespeare's life and the action of the play.]
The Two Gentlemen of Verona is Shakespeare's first experiment in romantic comedy, but its prime interest is its autobiographical significance. He had already shown his range and accomplishment in chronicle plays with Henry VI, tragedy with Titus Andronicus, farce with The Comedy of Errors; throughout his career he was always ready to experiment, to respond to new challenges. Naturally to those of the theatre, but especially to those that chimed with personal experience.
Everything shows that the year is 1592, the first year of his momentous relationship with his young patron, and the theme of the play is the conflict between the claims of friendship and those of love—as in the Sonnets, with which we find revealing parallels of expression. So too with the experience that went into the play. It appears to have been written rapidly, perhaps for private performance, the end suddenly...
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SOURCE: Jaarsma, Richard J. “The ‘Lear Complex’ in The Two Gentlemen of Verona.” Literature and Psychology 22, no. 4 (1972): 199-202.
[In the following essay, Jaarsma examines the father-daughter relationship in The Two Gentlemen of Verona, drawing a parallel with the relationship between King Lear and Cordelia.]
Certain intriguing parallels between the father-daughter confrontation in The Two Gentlemen of Verona and King Lear buttress the claims by psychological critics that Lear's violent reaction to Cordelia's “failure” to show her love for him stems from unconscious sexual motives. According to this reading, Lear's rage at what he sees to be Cordelia's “ingratitude” results from the fact that Lear “not only loves his daughters; he is also in love with them, especially with the youngest one.”1 Consequently, he “expects his daughter to love him not only as a daughter but also as a lover.”2 The relinquishing of his kingdom is based on the hope that by thus demonstrating his love, Lear will “ultimately retire to [Cordelia]”3 in a kind of infantile-sexual relationship indicated in his lines: “I loved her most, and thought to set my rest / On her kind nursery.”4 Goneril and Regan, moreover, “make it quite clear that the daughters know their father's true interests rather well and that they are, with...
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SOURCE: Haslem, Lori Schroeder. “‘O Me, the Word Choose!’: Female Voice and Catechetical Ritual in The Two Gentlemen of Verona and The Merchant of Venice.” Shakespeare Studies 22 (1994): 122-40.
[In the following excerpt, Haslem analyzes the significance of Shakespeare's use of female friendships and communication in a largely patriarchal setting, such as that presented in The Two Gentlemen of Verona.]
Whenever women meet privately and talk, says Simone de Beauvoir in The Second Sex, they construct a “counter-universe” which privileges female values not normally accorded a place within a patriarchal-valued universe.1 To explain the purpose of such private conferences, de Beauvoir borrows a metaphor from the theater. “Confronting man,” she says, “woman is always play-acting,” but “with other women, a woman is behind the scenes …, polishing her equipment …, getting her costume together, preparing her make-up … before making her entrance on the stage.”2 And yet, when de Beauvoir's metaphor of women being behind the scenes is counterbalanced with her notion of a privately empowered female universe, a considerable paradox emerges, a paradox which de Beauvoir herself acknowledges.3 For if the understanding among the conferring women themselves is that they are always and eventually to reject female-dictated values in favor of...
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SOURCE: Timpane, John. “‘I am but a foole, looke you’: Launce and the Social Functions of Humor.” In The Two Gentlemen of Verona: Critical Essays, edited by June Schlueter, pp. 189-211. New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1996.
[In the following essay, Timpane surveys the significance of humor in Renaissance society, particularly focusing on the character of Launce in Shakespeare's The Two Gentlemen of Verona.]
Humor performs a wide range of social functions, some of which contribute to the way in which social institutions reorganize. Humor keeps ideas in circulation; it can also generate new ideas, float hypothetical consensus, and clarify problems. Because it can do all these things, humor can be involved in the way people change their minds.
A test case is Launce of Two Gentlemen of Verona. Although one of the earliest, if not the very first, of Shakespeare's comic efforts, Launce nevertheless seems an assured performance within the kindred traditions of clown and fool.1 Launce is an excellent example of how humor acts as a communal testing and teaching tool with the potential to contribute to social change.
Shakespeare's humorous characters are well known for corroborating themes and issues local to their plays. As many readers have felt, Launce teaches as much about love, pity, and human relations as any character in Two...
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Bentley, Greg. “Shakespeare's Two Gentlemen of Verona.” Explicator 46, no. 4 (summer 1988): 7-9.
Studies Valentine's pun about Sebastian/Julia at the end of the play.
Feingold, Michael. “Wading Game.” Village Voice 39, no. 35 (30 August 1994): 81.
Faults Adrian Hall's production of The Two Gentlemen of Verona for its lack of focus and direction, noting that staging the play against the backdrop of Central Park took away from the performance, despite the skill of some of the actors.
Hutchings, Geoffrey. “The Two Gentlemen of Verona.” In Shakespeare in Perspective, Vol. 2, edited by Roger Sales, pp. 191-96. London: Ariel Books/British Broadcasting Corporation, 1985.
Examines the concept of love in The Two Gentlemen of Verona, and contends that the play is about “adolescent love and irrational behavior.”
McNulty, Charles. “Just Diversions.” American Theatre 13, no. 7 (September 1996): 11.
Review of 1971 Tony Award-winning musical adaptation of The Two Gentlemen of Verona by John Guare and Mel Shapiro.
Myers, Jeffrey Rayner. “‘In Nothing Am I Chang'd but in My Garments’: Shakespearean Cross-Dressing and the Politics of Sexual Frustration.” Annals of Scholarship:...
(The entire section is 377 words.)