The Two Gentlemen of Verona Background

The Two Gentlemen of Verona Background

The Two Gentlemen of Verona was penned by William Shakespeare sometime between 1590 and 1594, thus placing it among the earliest of the Bard’s plays. The primary source for Shakespeare in writing this play appears to be a Spanish romance by Jorge de Montemayor titled La Diana Enamorada which was subsequently translated into English and thus available as source material. Over versions of this story were also at Shakespeare’s disposal and the final product he produced does indicate access to more than just one single resource.

What The Two Gentlemen of Verona may succeed at more than anything else is revealing why British Renaissance drama in the wake of playwrights like Shakespeare, Jonson, Kyd and Marlowe so effortlessly succeeded the era of stage presentations which preceded the revolution they initiated. That preceding era was marked by the popularity of romantic dramas heavily based on Italian love stories. Romeo and Juliet belongs to that tradition of Italian love stories adapted for the British stage as well and while that tragedy has consistently remained popular with audiences, as an artistic achievement it also consistently ranks in the bottom half of Shakespeare’s canon. By comparison, The Two Gentlemen of Verona has not only failed to ignite the appreciation of critics, it has failed to spark the interest of audiences.

That tradition of Italian love stories provided Shakespeare with the opportunity to create a timeless tale of star-crossed love that every generation can relate to and audiences around the world can appreciate in Romeo and Juliet. Those stories were also heavy with the kind of romantic intrigue that produces plot points like lovers taking on disguises and the eternal conflict between the power of friendship between two and the power to destroy that friendship when they both lust after the same girl. Those and many other attributes that Shakespeare would later develop to a more mature degree are present in The Two Gentlemen of Verona.

For instance, the character of Julia becomes the prototype for many more well-known female characters who take on a disguise in order to further their aims. This early comedy even seems to anticipate and foreshadow the scene in the later Italian-inspired tragedy in which those star-crossed lovers secretly meet at Friar Laurence’s. Only in this case, the meeting place is a cell, the friar is named Patrick and the couple meeting secretly are the decidedly less tongue-tripping Eglamour and Silvia.

Other than as a sort of dress rehearsal for later improvements on his ability to adapt Italian love stories into English-speaking drama, The Two Gentlemen of Verona has historically proven to contain little else of much interest for critics and scholars. The comedy routinely ranks as one of the least-performed of Shakespeare’s works in English-speaking countries except for theaters suffering from a shortage of players. Since the play requires the smallest speaking cast of any of Shakespeare’s works, it is much better suited to a smaller theater company. On the other hand, perhaps due to its Italian drama influence, The Two Gentlemen of Verona has consistently been more popular in European countries where English is the dominant language.

Other than as a sort of dress rehearsal for later improvements on his ability to adapt Italian love stories into English-speaking drama, The Two Gentlemen of Verona has historically proven to contain little else of much interest for critics and scholars. The comedy routinely ranks as one of the least-performed of Shakespeare’s works in English-speaking countries except for theaters suffering from a shortage of players. Since the play requires the smallest speaking cast of any of Shakespeare’s works, it is much better suited to a smaller theater company. On the other hand, perhaps due to its Italian drama influence, The Two Gentlemen of Verona has consistently been more popular in European countries where English is the dominant language.

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