(Shakespearean Criticism)

The Two Gentlemen of Verona

Critics past and present have observed that The Two Gentlemen of Verona is a play fraught with inconsistencies and marred by weak characterization and largely unmotivated reversals. As such the play, which was composed early in Shakespeare's career, has often been regarded as an example of the young playwright's inexperience. Despite the play's reputation as a botched attempt at dramaturgy, many modern critics have found much to be studied and valued in The Two Gentlemen of Verona. Howard C. Cole (1989), for example, admits that the play contains many weaknesses, but observes that the combination of the earnest tone of the play and the “adroit burlesque” of the subplot reveals the ideals of love and friendship in a new way.

The ending of The Two Gentlemen of Verona, which contains major reversals of fortune for the play's lovers, has been the subject of much critical discussion. William Rossky (1982) notes that the burlesque of the play's ending is unmatched by any other component of the play. Rossky argues that the play as a whole should be viewed as satire rather than as a failed attempt to dramatize the conventions of Renaissance ethical thought, and maintains that his view of the play is supported by both its comic patterns and by an awareness of Elizabethan attitudes regarding love and friendship. Like Rossky, Margaret Maurer (1989) focuses her analysis of the play on its ending. Maurer asserts that the minor inconsistencies throughout the play have a rhetorical relationship to the play's ending.

Another element of The Two Gentlemen of Verona that has been examined by modern critics is the relationships of the four lovers in the play: Valentine, Silvia, Proteus, and Julia. Claus Bratt Østergaard (1995) points out that the dilemma presented by the play is that in order to have love one must disregard friendship; yet the love one seeks depends on the friendship that has been disclaimed. Silvia and Julia, Østergaard argues, are “displaced representations” of the love between Valentine and Proteus. Østergaard goes on to demonstrate that Silvia and Julia are rivals who compete for love, and that their relationship is acted out through “symbolic representation” in the form of Valentine and Proteus, who are courting the two women. René Girard (1989) examines the relationships among the four lovers in terms of “second-hand” or mimetic desire. Girard demonstrates the significant role Valentine plays in the onset of Proteus's desire for Silvia. This passion, Girard argues, is generated by Proteus's disposition to desire what Valentine desires.

The plot and its reversals also have been the focus of many critical studies. Charles A. Hallett (1996) contends that a disjunction exists between the plot situations and the characters involved in those situations. Hallett further states that Shakespeare created characters within the Renaissance conventions of romantic love, but the play's plot does not enable the characters to behave in accordance with those conventions. Although Hallett views the reversals in the play as not believably motivated, he suggests that Shakespeare in this early play was experimenting with techniques including the 180-degree reversal, and that The Two Gentlemen of Verona is valuable as a document providing early evidence of Shakespeare's exploration of plotting techniques. Similarly, Larry S. Champion (1970) finds the plot reversals to be unsupported by credible motivation, and argues that Shakespeare was primarily interested in exploiting the comic potential of plot situations he knew to be popular with his audience. Champion maintains that Shakespeare's emphasis on plot is further evidenced by both his heavily stylized characterization and hyperbolic rhetoric.

Like Charles A. Hallett, Camille Wells Slights (1993) observes the influence of Renaissance conventions on The Two Gentlemen of Verona. Yet Slights maintains that the play's main theme is an exploration not of the conflict between the ideals of love and friendship, but rather of the Renaissance notion of what is considered the proper behavior of a gentlemen in courtly society. Slights compares the play to contemporary texts on gentlemanly behavior, including Castiglione's The Courtier, and argues that the play presents courtly discourse and eloquence in a positive light, but also demonstrates the fragility of this ideal.

Criticism: Overviews And General Studies

(Shakespearean Criticism)

SOURCE: “The ‘Full Meaning’ of The Two Gentlemen of Verona,” in Comparative Drama, Vol. 23, No. 3, Fall 1989, pp. 201-27.

[In the essay below, Cole discusses the problems with dating The Two Gentlemen of Verona, and analyzes the sources from which Shakespeare may have drawn to craft the play. In his examination of the play's tone and themes, Cole contends that the comic scenes of the play do not simply satirize or criticize the ideals of love and friendship, but rather reveal these ideals “in a new light.”]

Speaking of Shakespeare's “continuous development,” T. S. Eliot once insisted that “the full meaning of any one of his plays is not in itself alone, but in that play in the order in which it was written, in its relation to all of Shakespeare's other plays, earlier and later: we must know all of Shakespeare's work in order to know any of it.”1 We must also, of course, know as much as we can about the works upon which Shakespeare's work was based, and about the traditions that enriched and defined them, especially if we seek the full meaning of a very early play, whose awkwardness may obscure the meaning its young author intended as well as its significance in the shaping of his whole career. If we measure The Two Gentlemen of Verona in these three ways—against the other early plays, against its own sources, and against the traditions those sources bespeak—we shall see that it is probably Shakespeare's first comedy, that its tone is generally serious, and that however great its reliance upon traditions, its use of them is quite untraditional.


Dating. First, Two Gentlemen's dating, for whether we pursue its full meaning or simply its significance in Shakespeare's continuous development, our sequence must be rightly ordered, and nowhere does the problem of chronology loom larger than in the early comedies. Granted, almost everyone since T. W. Baldwin would rank Love's Labor's Lost and A Midsummer Night's Dream as the fourth and fifth of five comedies composed between 1590 and 1595, and most critics still place The Comedy of Errors first, The Taming of the Shrew second, and Two Gentlemen third. For the placement of the first three comedies, however, there is no conclusive evidence, either external or internal, only inferred patterns of development. For example, since Two Gentlemen contains so many signposts to the increasingly romantic worlds ahead—Navarre, Belmont, Illyria—it is deemed unlikely to have preceded those anomalous, brusquer worlds of Errors and Shrew. But such Darwinian logic surely overlooks the fact that the forests of Athens and Arden are separated by that of Windsor as well as the likelihood that when the apprentice playwright first turned to comedy, he found the immediate theaters of Greene and Lyly more attractive than any academic re-creations of Plautus and Terence. Certainly by 1592, or whenever he plotted his first comedy, Shakespeare must already have seen many specimens of native romantic drama, if only the kind of stuff epitomized by the very popular Mucedorus. Yet another frequent assumption is that his first essay in comedy must have naturally drawn upon the classical schooling of more than a decade past, that he first needed to work that “small Latine” out of his system before experimenting with the readily available.

If such inferred patterns lead us everywhere and nowhere, so do poetic “style” and topicality, each in its own way vague or incomplete or ambiguous. Just as frustrating is our lack of relevant external criteria: only a passing reference to the Gray's Inn performance of Errors in December 1594 and Meres' notice in 1598 of Errors, Two Gentlemen, and probably Shrew (“Love Labours Wonne”). The least indefinite evidence we are left to work with is dramatic technique, skills as basic to Shakespeare's craft as the building of dialogue. Here the very critics who place Two Gentlemen third in the comic sequence also admit that it is, technically speaking, his least successful play. While E. K. Chambers eventually placed it after Errors and Shrew, for instance, in a separate essay he had already noticed that “no [other] play … bears upon it such obvious marks of immaturity,” including the “abuse of verbal ingenuities” throughout, the “sentimental bankruptcy” of the closing scene, and that “lack of adroitness which allows the characters … to fall into pairs.”2 At the same time, critics who are reluctant to place Two Gentlemen first rightly celebrate Errors as “a work of some achievement”3 and seem to appreciate its technical superiority.

These technical comparisons point to Two Gentlemen as Shakespeare's first comedy, and so does our scheme of measuring the plays against their sources. Of the three works in question, it seems the least critical about (or most indifferent to) the artificiality of its sources' views and values, and it is therefore the least cautious in exploiting its sources' conventions. It is, in short, the most conventional and the most self-consciously conventional of these youthful exercises. Valentine sets the mood by carefully cataloguing love-books, Leander, and love's pains,4 Proteus counters with a predictable tribute to love's power (properly footnoted, of course: “Yet writers say …”), and Valentine caps the exchange with an equally predictable caveat for his “metamorphis'd” friend, that “votary to fond desire” (again, dutifully registered: “And writers say …”). We may wince at such apparently solemn rehearsals of clichés and truisms and look for signs of Shakespeare's impatience with simply following romantic-comic conventions (the kind of attitude signaled by the very title of Love's Labor's Lost) or for anticipations of the Puckish tone that surfaces in Lysander's careful charting of the never-smooth-running course of true love (especially as glossed by the indignant Hermia). If the playwright meant us to laugh here, however, the humorous touches are deft indeed, far subtler than in any comedy before As You Like It and oddly sorted with those tiresomely obvious jokes about “horns” and “lac'd mutton” which immediately follow.

Granted, there is no denying the comic potential in these young men's desire to show that they have been reading just the right books. But was their young creator himself so bent on reflecting the same fashionable knowledge that he took them as seriously as they take themselves? If a modern production emphasizes their self-conscious posturing, thereby implying that Shakespeare was having fun at their expense, it must rely on gestures, voice inflections, costuming, or whatever else the director decides to bring into the text. Before adding such seasoning, however, the same director should consider those technical deficiencies which cannot be explained as misunderstood comedy—static declamations, mechanical asides, dialogue that quickly degenerates into duologue—the very evidence that prevents Stanley Wells … from believing that Shakespeare had already plotted the last scenes of Errors, Shrew, and much of Richard III.

We shall later argue Two Gentlemen's essentially earnest tone. At this point we need only remain skeptical about equating what may be innocent awkwardness with deliberate mischief, lest we see in the young playwright's own lack of art a clever indictment of artifice. It is admittedly tempting to interpret the play's consistently formal, often self-consciously eloquent, and sometimes frigid lyricism as Shakespeare's case against lovers who confuse verbal cleverness with true emotion; such a case is in fact made in Love's Labor's Lost, when Petrarch and “painted rhetoric” retreat in the face of true love, sickness, and death. But given the artful yet obvious exposure of superficial codes and attitudes in that comedy, it seems more likely that the young poet of Two Gentlemen was simply not yet able to poetize dramatically, to adapt his flights to distinguish lovers true from false. After all, whether or not this play is his first comedy, it does represent Shakespeare's first attempt to order the wide-ranging episodes of romantic fiction, a task so taxing in itself that he might well have been forced to think much more about exploitable techniques (“how to make it play”) than about credible representation (“what does this really mean?”).

The play's least credible moments, of course, come in the last quixotic scene, beginning with Proteus' infamous “In love / Who respects friend?” (V.iv.53-54). If we have been assuming mischief throughout the play, an author gently mocking the very codes his dim-witted gentlemen invoke, Proteus' question looks rhetorical, a coup de grâce for high-minded theorizing and people who expect life to be just like literature. But Sylvia, up to now quite sensible and certainly free-spirited, immediately and unrealistically retorts, “All men but Proteus,” and we find no suggestion that her answer came too easily or that it should have been qualified. A far more realistic treatment of love versus friendship appears later in Much Ado about Nothing, beginning with Beatrice's “Kill Claudio” (IV.i.289), but Two Gentlemen points in the other direction, back to the Warwickshire country boy, anxious at the outset to advertise his own knowledge of fashionable writers, to prove with the entrance of Speed on line 70 that he also knew his Lyly, and finally, with Julia's complaint about her maid's docility some 130 lines later, to demonstrate his mastery of Montemayor.

Conspicuous in Two Gentlemen's uncritical acceptance of its sources' views and values, then, is what Geoffrey Bullough terms “a somewhat jejeune absence of self-criticism.”5 Either that or an absence of self-confidence, a Shakespeare who finally made “a nervous recourse to tradition, to the practice of older dramatists”6 by having Valentine offer Sylvia to Proteus. The latter explanation is probably more logical, but if we measure this early comedy against the choices of treatments its models offered, we sense the brash amateur more often than the nervous novice.


Crafting. Which sources (or which of their respective traditions) exerted the greatest influence in the crafting of Two Gentlemen, and was there a single work which provided its seminal idea? Perhaps the artist himself could not have answered these questions, for inchoate musings often alternate rapidly, even involuntarily, between unlike things. Stories of the magnanimous friend and of the inconstant lover could have shaped one another from the very outset, unless, of course, Shakespeare's original goal was merely to revise an old play, now lost, which apparently followed Montemayor's Diana in dealing only with inconstant love: “The history of felix & philiomena.”7 But the playwright is not likely to have known about a play evidently performed only once at court in 1585.

The few critics who have addressed the issue of precedence seem evenly divided between the inconstant lover strain (the germ of the Julia-Proteus-Silvia triangle, whose source is almost always identified as Diana) and the magnanimous friend strain (the germ of the Valentine-Silvia-Proteus triangle, whose source is usually identified as Eliot's The Governor but sometimes as Lyly's Euphues or Boccaccio's Decameron or even Flaminio Scala's Flavio Tradito).8 But whichever strain first attracted the young playwright's attention, he must have soon realized that the problems of molding his two triangles into a quadrilateral were not entirely structural. The conventions each tradition appeals to, as well as its final moral, are mutually exclusive: the virtue of constancy in love (with Julia as long-suffering heroine and Silvia merely the “other woman”) must inevitably clash with the virtue of friendship over love (with Valentine as selfless hero and Proteus the favored friend). As Berners Jackson wryly notes, the result is that the “hero and heroine … in what seems to be a love story, do not meet until the end, and do not fall in love. What we have, in fact, is a conflict between the claims of two conventions.”9

Even more interesting is that Two Gentlemen reveals no attempt to cushion the obviously inevitable clash by adapting one story's events, characters, and meanings to the other's. For the original audience, dramatic suspense must have centered not in whether but in how all would be made to go well; the conflicting conventions were equally popular, and the contrary expectations they raise seem equally encouraged well into the last scene. Indeed, the longer Shakespeare postponed the climax (in this play, a final turning point in the fortunes of the conventions as well as of the characters), the less credible his gentlemen were bound to become. Forced into the alien world of inconstant love, Valentine must serve as a foil to Proteus, yet his new role of loyal lover jeopardizes his old role of true friend who sacrifices his betrothed. Conversely, the introduction of Julia into the friendship story makes Proteus, the favored friend, seem worthless as both friend and lover.

It is Julia's swoon—genuine or feigned? the mistaken ring certainly appears deliberate—which initiates the triumph of love over friendship, of good sense over high-flown theory, of romance over the stuff of academic theses. A few awkward moments admittedly remain. Thurio, for example, is dismissed as “degenerate and base” for relinquishing his claim to Silvia upon “such slight conditions” as her contempt for him. But the apprentice is now going in the right direction, toward worlds in which clear heads complement loving hearts. Another sign of better things ahead, a weakness that will become a strength, is Shakespeare's clumsy attempt to blend disparate sources. We shall never know why, so early in his career, he was not content to essay only one tradition at a time; as we shall see, each offered more than enough material. Perhaps it was the same “two is bound to be better than one” principle which inspired the surplus of Senecan revenge machinery in the early chronicles and the twins' twin servants in Errors. But there is some good in the tendency of young artists to begin by taking on too much: every choice they are thereby forced to make throws additional light on their goals and techniques.

Whichever story line Shakespeare initially recalled or happened upon, his memory or search must have first of all been stimulated by dramatic considerations, for no entertainer anxious to succeed dares ignore what is currently successful. And if the reader turned playwright began not with a story to dramatize but kinds of drama to imitate, to find stories for, he probably had greater inspiration for long-suffering Julia than magnanimous Valentine. The persecuted heroines in the romantic comedies of Shakespeare's boyhood—Sir Clyomon and Clamydes (c. 1570) and Common Conditions (=1576)10 are two which have survived—had become the more delicate but equally oppressed ladies in Fair Em (c.1590) and Mucedorus (=1598), and especially those lovely women—all wronged within highly moral frames of reference—whose misfortunes Greene plots in Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay (c.1589) and James IV (c.1591), Margaret, Dorothea, and Ida.

Granted, native drama had also drawn upon and developed the widely popular friendship literature but rarely along the lines of romantic comedy. It is significant that the only extant play focusing solely on love versus friendship, the Tragaedia Von Julio und Hyppolyta, ends tragically, even though nearly every narrative handling, including Boccaccio's and Elyot's, concludes happily.11 It is likely that Richard Edwardes' lost Palamon and Arcite (1566) also opposed friendship to love and ended unhappily. Comedy does survive in Fedele and Fortunio: The deceites in Love … of two Italian Gentlemen (c.1584), but it is basically the comedy of its source, Pasqualigo's Il Fedele (1576), the comedy of intrigue, whose main interest is not love but the deceits sexual desire inspires. Flavio Tradito is even more brusque and less personal; its characters seem incapable of introspection, and its soul lies in its ingenious plotting. The only dramatizing of the love-friendship conflict which could be considered romantic comedy, in fact, is the only version we can be reasonably certain Shakespeare knew, an episode in Lyly's Endimion (1588) in which Eumenides rightly prefers the welfare of his friend Endimion to the winning of his love, Semele. But even here the differences are as significant as the similarities, for Shakespeare added to Lyly's cerebral, intricately patterned debates what G. K. Hunter aptly characterizes as the “sense of the beating heart beneath the word-play.”12 That phrase may remind us of O. J. Campbell's point about Shakespeare's “creative sympathy with youthful emotion,”13 his freeing the love story not from witty word-play but from a surplus of incident, the intrigue that dominated the commedia dell'arte. It would therefore appear that if Shakespeare began his career in comedy by surveying the kinds of successful plays he could imitate, he either followed Greene's long-suffering heroines into Monte-mayor's narrative or revised one of the comedic forms of friendship literature—knockabout Italian or rarefied Lylian—along Greene's gentler yet more vital lines.

Lest this choice of Greene first or Greene last seem forced, consider Bacon and Bungay III.i, a scene which probably points backward to Campaspe (1584) and possibly forward to Two Gentlemen. Desperately in lust with Margaret yet fearful it will be “marriage or no market with the mayd,” Prince Edward has posted to Oxford to enlist Bacon's “nigromaticke spels” and has left his friend Lacy, Earl of Lincoln, to woo for him.14 By the time Edward reaches the Friar's cell, of course, Margaret and Lacy are deeply in love, and Bacon's magic is used instead to prevent their marriage. The Prince now returns to confront the couple, “poinard in his hand,” but he soon finds it difficult to keep afloat in young love's sea of virtue and self-sacrifice. His first charge, treason, elicits Lacy's confession that only Love taught him why “the louely maid of Fresingfield / Was fitter to be Lacies wedded wife, / Than concubine vnto the prince of Wales” (ll. 944-46). Edward next advances the code of male friendship—“Iniurious Lacie, did I loue thee more / Than Alexander his Hephestion?”—but Peggy replies with a more realistic question, whether heterosexual love “Is not of force to bury thoughts of friendes.” The Prince then falls to high-flown verbiage, and she returns him god for god to underline the emptiness of splendid rhetoric. He finally appropriates academic logic—“Ablata causa, tollitur effectus”—only to have Peggy assure him that she would shortly “meet her Lacie in the heauens.” Between her plea—“Rid me, and keepe a friend worth many loues”—and his—“Nay, Edward, keepe a loue worth many friends”—the beleaguered Prince is virtually forced into “subduing fancies passion, / Conquering [him]selfe” (ll. 1043-44).

Margaret's closing moral, “Then lordly sir, [thy] conquest is as great, / In conquering loue, as Caesars victories” (ll. 1060-61), as well as Edward's own comparison of himself to Alexander (l. 948), will recall Campaspe, which ends with Hephestion's compliment, “The conquering of Thebes was not so honourable as the subdueing of these thoughts,” and Alexander's quizzical response, “either find me out an other [world] to subdue, or of my word I wil fall in loue.”15 As in our comparison of Lyly to Shakespeare, however, the differences here are again at least as significant as the similarities. Margaret's moral closes a scene in the middle of the play; the code of male friendship or “honor” is but the first of many obstacles in the course of true love. Edward's lust will be followed by the jealous rivalry of Lambert and Serlsby, Lacy's supposed disloyalty, and Margaret's own last-minute rescue from the convent at Framlingham. Hephestion's moral, on the other hand, is the play's moral, its concluding statement. For all of Lyly's talk about love, the heroine (and the love story that might have been) will turn out to be but one obstacle in the hero's course of true honor. Those scenes which would have been central in Greene, Apelles' growing love for Campaspe (or, in Endimion, the longings of Eumenides for Semele and of Corsites for Tellus), are in Lyly merely means to a more comprehensive end, Alexander's perfect magnanimity (or Endimion's perfect possession of Perfect Beauty).

As in Greene, so almost always in early Shakespeare. Their lyricism creates an atmosphere that engenders belief in youthful love and courtship, in heroines who feel as well as think, in heroes who are more interested in the women they pursue than in the ideas their courtships are intended to suggest. Lyly keeps before us the artifice of balance and design, characters who obviously represent some point of view, episodes that are steps in a delicate thesis-dance. Greene and Shakespeare, however, give us lovers in action, and since these lovers do not seem to “stand for” anything, it is hard not to take their courtships as ends in themselves; only after a major crisis has been resolved do we find ourselves reflecting on the meanings that have been advanced. The authors of Bacon and Bungay and Two Gentlemen point forward to soap opera, while he who measures Alexander is looking back to medieval and early Tudor disputations. Greene and Shakespeare would have envied a modern director's freedom to assign the heroine's part to a woman; Lyly would probably have continued to use a bright little boy, lest emotion blur wit or empathy with any dancer obscure the dance.

It is unlikely that Greene's romantic playwrighting instilled in Shakespeare a penchant wholly new, but what an encouraging precedent for a novice whose skills were just developing! What Shakespeare discovered only in the crafting of Two Gentlemen, however, was a problem Greene faced in Bacon and Bungay and did not completely solve until James IV, the difficulty of making five acts' worth of incidents all relate to the quiet heroism of the long-suffering heroine(s). In Bacon and Bungay, Bacon's spectacular magic is introduced by way of Edward's lust, and it is further defined as that which “worketh manie woes” when the sons of Lambert and Serlsby, seeing their father dueling over Peggy in the “glasse prospectiue,” kill one another. But much of Bacon's magic advances themes irrelevant to Peggy's plight, matters of patriotism, repentence, and sheer display. In James IV, on the other hand, every scene provides some comment on the perils and purity of Ida or Dorothea.

Shakespeare also used two heroines to flesh out his plot, and he probably drew from other popular plays for the theme of forgiveness (for example, The Rare Triumphes of Love and Fortune, c. 1582, which later served as a source for Cymbeline) and for some merry greenwood scenes (any of the numerous plays from Robin Hood, = 1560, to Peele's Edward I, = 1593). All this and much more could have been worked in without endangering unity of mood or consistency of characterization. But less than half way through the play the apprentice playwright suddenly switched traditions, appropriating what seemed to him the most attractive features within the private theater of ideas. Supposedly smitten by Silvia's beauty, Proteus registers his passion formally, as a thesis-problem:

Methinks my zeal to Valentine is cold,
And that I love him not as I was wont:
O, but I love his lady too too much,
And that's the reason I love him so little.


At this point an entirely human situation of “all for love” begins competing against the academic abstraction of “friendship over love.” As Hunter notes, this latter “Lylian kind of structure will … only work when the characters are as simple as are Lyly's,” and Proteus has by now become much too real in his passion and knavery to be reduced to the idea of love sacrificing honor. … If Shakespeare was aware of such mixed moods engendering contrary expectations, however, his juxtaposing of and II.vii (formal restatement of thesis-problem; winsome illustration of all for love) suggests that he was quite indifferent to the risks.


Unconventionality. As Hunter implies, then, Two Gentlemen's main fault is a structure too suddenly Lylian, a “debate theme too central”. … Yet the fault seems to have been deliberately committed, for in both the magnanimous friend and the inconstant lover strains Shakespeare had ample encouragement to humanize absolutes or to soften dichotomies. However widespread, geographically and chronologically, the authors who opposed love and friendship—from Hans Sachs to Lope de Vega,...

(The entire section is 10548 words.)

William Rossky (essay date 1982)

(Shakespearean Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Two Gentlemen of Verona as Burlesque,” in English Literary Renaissance, Vol. 12, No. 2, Spring 1982, pp. 210-19.

[In the following essay Rossky maintains that The Two Gentlemen of Verona, particularly the play's ending, is intended as a burlesque, rather than as a serious but ultimately failed attempt to portray the conventions of Renaissance thinking on ethics.]

Among the variety of critical approaches which attempt to explain why The Two Gentlemen of Verona is, or seems to our time to be, a Shakespearean failure, the most prevalent is the rationalization that the play is a serious dramatization of conventional Renaissance ethical...

(The entire section is 4125 words.)

Margaret Maurer (essay date 1989)

(Shakespearean Criticism)

SOURCE: “Figure, Place, and the End of The Two Gentlemen of Verona,” in Style, Vol. 23, No. 3, Fall 1989, pp. 405-29.

[In the essay that follows, Maurer demonstrates that a rhetorical relationship exists between the inconsistencies within The Two Gentlemen of Verona and the play's ending.]

After dinner read “Two Gentlemen of Verona”. … That play disgusted me more than ever in the final scene, where Valentine, on Proteus's mere begging pardon, when he has no longer any hope of gaining his ends, says: “All that was mine in Silvia, I give thee!” Silvia standing by.

Cross, ed., George...

(The entire section is 12274 words.)

René Girard (essay date 1989)

(Shakespearean Criticism)

SOURCE: “Love Delights in Praises: A Reading of The Two Gentlemen of Verona,” in Philosophy and Literature, Vol. 13, No. 2, October 1989, pp. 231-47.

[In the following essay, Girard studies the role of mimetic desire in the relationships among the four lovers in The Two Gentlemen of Verona, and argues that Proteus's desire for Silvia is generated by his predisposition to favor whatever Valentine desires.]


Valentine and Proteus have been friends since their earliest childhood in Verona, and their two fathers want to send them to Milan for their education. Because of his love for a girl named Julia, Proteus refuses to leave...

(The entire section is 6110 words.)

Claus Bratt Østergaard (essay date 1995)

(Shakespearean Criticism)

SOURCE: “Jealous Gentlemen: A Reappraisal of The Two Gentlemen of Verona,” in Shakespeare Jahrbuch, Vol. 131, 1995, pp. 116-27.

[In the following essay, Østergaard analyzes the dynamics of the relationships of Valentine, Proteus, Julia, and Silvia, and observes that the women may be viewed as the “displaced representations” of the love between the two men.]

Valentine and Proteus are the The Two Gentlemen of Verona, fast friends since childhood. Valentine leaves for Milan, where he falls in love with Silvia, but Proteus prefers to stay at home with his Julia. So the friends must part. The play opens with the fact of this separation and with their...

(The entire section is 5934 words.)

Criticism: Plot Strategies

(Shakespearean Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Comedies of Action,” in The Evolution of Shakespeare's Comedy: A Study in Dramatic Perspective, Harvard University Press, 1970, pp. 25-38.

[In the excerpt that follows, Champion argues that the reversals in The Two Gentlemen of Verona emphasize Shakespeare's focus on plot over characterization as well as his interest in experimenting with comic form.]

The Two Gentlemen of Verona is certainly among Shakespeare's earliest attempts to adapt the material of romance to the stage and to devise a comic perspective to control it.1 Admittedly his effort in this play is only partially successful. Intemperate young lovers, crossed by fate...

(The entire section is 6040 words.)

Criticism: Renaissance Ideals

(Shakespearean Criticism)

SOURCE: “Common Courtesy in The Two Gentlemen of Verona,” in Shakespeare's Comic Commonwealths, University of Toronto Press, 1993, pp. 57-73.

[In the following essay, Slights asserts that The Two Gentlemen of Verona explores not the theme of love versus friendship but rather the proper function and behavior of a gentleman in courtly society.]

                                        ‘he being understood
May make good Courtiers, but who Courtiers good?’

(John Donne, ‘Satyre V’)

Unlike The Comedy of Errors and The Taming of the Shrew, which build on contrasts between the civilized and the...

(The entire section is 7542 words.)

Further Reading

(Shakespearean Criticism)

Goldberg, Jonathan. “Shakespearean Characters: The Generation of Silvia.” In Voice Terminal Echo: Postmodernism and English Renaissance Texts, pp. 68-100. New York: Methuen, 1986.

Examines the significance of Silvia's name to her character and to her destiny within The Two Gentlemen of Verona. The critic goes on to demonstrate the relational significance between name and character within several other Shakespearean texts.

Hallett, Charles A. “‘Metamorphising’ Proteus: Reversal Strategies in The Two Gentlemen of Verona,” in Two Gentlemen of Verona: Critical Essays, edited by June Schlueter, Garland Publishing, Inc., 1996, pp. 153-77....

(The entire section is 329 words.)