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one of his latest pieces :—is no allowance to be made for the first flights of a young poet? nothing for the imitation of a preceding celebrated dramatist*, which in some of the lower dialogues of this comedy (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 must, I conceive, be pronounced concerning the Comedy of Errors and Love's Labour's Lost, by every person who is intimately acquainted with his 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 his 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 be 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 terraqueons 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 1. 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, and published in 1598. It 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 mentions 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.
* Malone points at Lilly, whose comedies were performed with great success and admiration previous to Shakspeare's commencement of his dramatic career.
DUKE of Milan, Father to Silvia.
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.
TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA.
SCENE I. An open place in Verona.
Enter VALENTINE and PROTEUS.
Valentine. Cease to persuade, my loving Proteus; Home-keeping youth have ever homely wits 1 : Wer't not, affection chains thy tender days To the sweet glances of thy honour'd love, I rather would entreat thy company, To see the wonders of the world abroad, Than living dully sluggardiz’d at home, Wear out thy youth with shapeless idleness?. But, since thou lov'st, love still, and thrive therein, Even as I would, when I to love begin.
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, When thou dost meet good hap; and, in thy danger, If ever danger do environ thee,
1 Milton has the same play upon words in his Comus.
“ It is for homely features to keep home,
They had their name thence.” 2 The expression shapeless idleness is admirably expressive, as implying that idleness prevents the giving form or character to the manners.
Commend thy grievance to my holy prayers,
Val. And on a love-book pray for my success.
Val. That's on some shallow story of deep love, How young Leander cross'd the Hellespont 3.
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 4.
groans; Coy looks, with heart-sore sighs; one fading mo
Pro. So, by your circumstance, you call me fool. Val. So, by your circumstance, I fear, you'll proye. Pro. 'Tis love you cavil at; I am not Love. 3 The allusion is to Marlowe's poem of Hero and Leander, which was entered on the Stationers' books in 1593, though not published till 1598. It was probably circulated in manuscript in the interim, as was the custom at that period. The poem seems to have made an impression on Shakspeare, who appears to have recently perused it, for he again alludes to it in the third act. And in As You Like It he has quoted a line from it.
4 A proverbial expression, now disused, signifying, “Don't make a laughing-stock of me.' The French have a phrase Bailler foin en corne: which Cotgrave interprets, “To give one the boots; to sell him a bargain. Perhaps deduced from a humorous punishment at harvest home feasts in Warwickshire.
5 Circumstance is used equivocally. It here means conduct ; in the preceding line, circumstantial deduction.
Val. Love is your master, for he masters you:
Pro. Yet writers say; As in the sweetest bud
Val. And writers say, As the most forward bud
Pro. And thither will I bring thee, Valentine.
Val. Sweet Proteus, no; now let us take our leave.
Pro. All happiness bechance to thee in Milan !
6 The construction of this passage is, “ Let me hear from thee by letters to Milan,” i. e. addressed to Milan.