The Two Gentlemen of Verona

The Two Gentlemen of Verona

"The Two Gentlemen of Verona" is a comedy by William Shakespeare from early in his career. It has the smallest cast of any of Shakespeare's plays, and is the first of his plays in which a heroine dresses as a boy. It deals with the themes of friendship and infidelity. The highlight of the play is considered by some to be Launce, the clownish servant of Proteus, and his dog Crab, to whom "the most scene-stealing non-speaking role in the canon" has been attributed. [Stanley Wells, introduction to "The Two Gentlemen of Verona," in "William Shakespeare: The Complete Plays: Early Comedies", London, Folio Society, 1997, p. 4.]

Date and Text

The date of the creation of "The Two Gentlemen of Verona" is unknown, but it is generally believed to have been one of Shakespeare's earliest works. The first evidence of its existence is in a list of Shakespeare's plays in Francis Meres's "Palladis Tamia", published in 1598, but it is thought to have been written in the early 1590s. It has been suggested that "The Two Gentlemen" may have been Shakespeare's first work for the stage, as the scenes involving more than, at most, four characters, "betray an uncertainty of technique suggestive of inexperience." [Stanley Wells, introduction to "The Two Gentlemen of Verona," in "William Shakespeare: The Complete Plays: Early Comedies", London, Folio Society, 1997, p. 3.] It has also been suggested that the handling of the final scene, in which the faithful lover offers his beloved to the man who had attempted to rape her, as a token of his forgiveness, is a sign of Shakespeare's lack of maturity as a dramatist. [Jean E. Howard, introduction to "The Two Gentlemen of Verona," in "The Norton Shakespeare: Comedies", London, Norton, 1997, p. 79.] The play was not printed until 1623, when it appeared in the First Folio of Shakespeare's plays.


In writing "The Two Gentlemen of Verona", Shakespeare drew on a Spanish prose romance "Diana Enamorada" by the Portuguese writer Jorge de Montemayor. This work was published in 1559, was translated into French in 1578, and was published in English in 1598, though the translation was made several years earlier. It is believed that Shakespeare could have read the story in French, or in an unpublished English version, or could have learned of it from an anonymous English play of 1585, "The History of Felix and Philiomena", which is now lost. [Jean E. Howard, introduction to "The Two Gentlemen of Verona," in "The Norton Shakespeare: Comedies", London, Norton, 1997, p. 80.]

In the second book of "Diana Enamorada", Don Felix loves Felismena, and sends her a letter. Like Julia, Felismena pretends to reject the letter, and to be annoyed with her maid. Like Proteus, Felix is sent away by his father, and is followed by Felismena, who, disguised as a boy, becomes his page, and has the pain of learning of his new love for Celia, and of being sent to Celia as a messenger for Felix. The two lovers are reconciled at the end, after a combat in a wood, though Celia, having no counterpart to Valentine (or to Sebastian in "Twelfth Night"), falls in love with the supposed page, and dies of grief.


DUKE OF MILAN, Father to Silvia

VALENTINE, PROTEUS, the Two Gentlemen

SILVIA, beloved of Valentine

JULIA, beloved of Proteus

LUCETTA, waiting woman to Julia

ANTONIO, Father to Proteus

THURIO, a foolish rival to Valentine

EGLAMOUR, Agent for Silvia, in her escape

SPEED, a clownish Servant to Valentine

LAUNCE, the like to Proteus

PANTHINO, Servant to Antonio

HOST, where Julia lodges in Milan

OUTLAWS with Valentine

"'Servants, Musicians"'


to gain life experience. He begs his best friend, Proteus, to come with him, but Proteus is in love with a girl named Julia. At first Valentine chides Proteus for concentrating more on matters of love than matters of the mind, but after realizing that Proteus is really in love with Julia, he goes on alone.

Meanwhile, Julia is discussing Proteus with her maid, Lucetta. Lucetta reveals to Julia that she finds Proteus very fine - "Of many good, I think him best" - and tells Julia that she thinks Proteus is fond of her. Julia, embarrassed to admit she likes him, continues fishing until Lucetta brings out a letter. She will not say who gave it to her, but teases Julia that Valentine's servant gave it to her. She thinks it was sent from Proteus. Julia, still unwilling to reveal her love in front of Lucetta, angrily tears the letter, and then, having sent Lucetta away, kisses the fragments, and tries to piece them together.

As fate would design it, Proteus' father agrees with Valentine and Panthino, another of Proteus's friends, and soon sends Proteus to Milan. In a tearful goodbye with his beloved, Julia, Proteus swears eternal love. The two exchange rings and vows and Proteus promises to return as soon as he can.

Unfortunately, as soon as he arrives in Milan, trouble strikes. Proteus finds Valentine in love with Silvia, the daughter of the Duke. Despite his past love for Julia, Proteus also falls for Silvia and does everything he can to clear his own path to her. He even betrays Valentine to the Duke, telling Silvia's father that his daughter and Valentine plan to elope. The Duke, who wishes Silvia to marry Thurio, then catches and banishes Valentine.

While wandering outside of Milan, Valentine runs afoul of a band of outlaws. They tell him that they, too, were once gentlemen and were banished. Valentine lies to them, saying he was banished because he killed a man in a fair fight, and the outlaws decide to make him their king. Valentine is confused at first, but when they tell him that he must become their king or die, the decision becomes much clearer.

While Proteus is figuring out how to win Silvia over, back in Verona, Julia decides to join her lover and travels to Milan dressed as a boy. She convinces Lucetta to dress her in boy's clothes and help her fix her hair so she will not be harmed on the journey. Ironically, she insists that Proteus could love her and only her and compliments his fidelity.

Once in Milan, she discovers Proteus' betrayal and becomes his page - a youth named Sebastian - until she can figure out what to do. At first, she expects to hate Silvia because she is the object of Proteus' newfound affections. But when sent on an errand from Proteus to deliver to Silvia a letter and the same ring that Julia herself gave to him at their parting, Silvia scorns Proteus' affections. Julia realizes that Silvia does not return any of Proteus' love and is disgusted that he would forget about Julia for her. Instead, Silvia mourns for the loss of Valentine (Proteus has told her that Valentine is rumored dead). Therefore, Julia is confused and cannot decide what to do or how to treat Silvia - and likewise the portrait that Silvia has given her to bring to Proteus. She wonders what Proteus likes about Silvia and what she can do about it and eventually decides to be nice because Silvia felt pity for Julia's cause.

The play concludes in a tense confrontation in a forest, where Proteus attempts to rape Silvia. Valentine saves her, but then 'gives' her to Proteus in the name of friendship. Overwhelmed, Julia faints, revealing her identity in the process. Proteus suddenly remembers his love for Julia and returns to her. Valentine is able to marry Silvia and he and all the outlaws return to Milan.

In the comic subplot, even Launce finds romance, whereupon he devises a comic résumé of the attributes of a lower-class girl "whose faults exceed her hairs."


staged an operatic version in 1821.

From the middle of the eighteenth century, it was common for directors to cut the lines in the final scene where Valentine offers Silvia to Proteus, who has just attempted to rape her, as a sign of his forgiveness and friendship. This practice prevailed until William Charles Macready reintroduced the lines in 1841, though they were removed again as late as 1952, in Denis Carey's production at the Bristol Old Vic. [Jean E. Howard, introduction to "The Two Gentlemen of Verona," in "The Norton Shakespeare: Comedies", London, Norton, 1997, p. 79.]

The play has been produced sporadically, but with little success in the English-speaking world; it has proved more popular in Europe. [F. E. Halliday, "A Shakespeare Companion 1564-1964," Baltimore, Penguin, 1964; p.506.] Stanley Wells suggests that it "has succeeded best when subjected to adaptation, increasing its musical content, adjusting the emphasis of the last scene so as to reduce the shock of Valentine's donation of Silvia to Proteus, and updating the setting. [Stanley Wells, introduction to "The Two Gentlemen of Verona," in "William Shakespeare: The Complete Plays: Early Comedies", London, Folio Society, 1997, p. 3.]


A major theme of the play is the contest between friendship and love: that is, the question of whether the relationship between two male friends is more important than that between lovers. This is a common theme in Renaissance literature, since some aspects of the culture of the time celebrated friendship as the more important relationship (because it is pure and unconcerned with sexual attraction). This partly helps explain the bizarre sequence, by modern Western European standards, in which Valentine 'gives' Silvia to Proteus out of friendship, without even asking her.



Galt MacDermot, John Guare and Mel Shapiro adapted the show into a musical that opened on December 1, 1971 and closed May 20, 1973. [Green, Stanley. "The World of Musical Comedy". San Diego: Da Capo Press, 1980: 350.] Stuart Draper adapted the play for a gay version called "Two Gentlemen of Verona" which played at the Greenwich Playhouse in New York City in 2004.

Producer Roger Elsgood and director Willi Richards adapted it as the radio play "The Two Gentlemen of Valasna", setting it in two fictional Indian princely states called Malpur and Valasna, in the weeks leading up to the Indian Mutiny of 1857 - this version was first broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on 29 July 2007. [ [ BBC - Radio 3 - Drama on 3 ] ] It was recorded on location in Maharashtra, India earlier in 2007 with this cast drawn from the Bollywood, Indian television and the Mumbai English-speaking theatre traditions:
*Vishvadev / Valentine - Nadir Khan
*Parminder / Proteus - Arghya Lahiri
*Syoni / Sylvia - Anu Menon
*Jumaana / Julia (Servi = Sebastian) - Avantika Akerkar
*The Maharaja / Duke of Milan - Sohrab Ardishir
*Thaqib / Thurio - Zafar Karachiwala
*Sparsh / Speed - Kunaal Roy Kapoor
*Lehk / Launce - Joy Sengupta
*Lavanya / Lucetta - Suchitra Pillai
*Babu / Host - Farid Currim
*Arabinder. / Antonio - Jayant Kripalani
*Pramathesh / Panthino and Ekanjeet / Eglamour - Vikrant Chaturvedi
*The Dacoits / outlaws - Advait Zen Hazarat, Siddhant Pinto and Ali Fazal

Besides the new character names, some other substitutions suitable to the new setting (eg "by Ran" for "by Jove", "Vishnu's shrine for "the north gate", "the mighty gods' wrath's appeased" for "the Eternal's wrath's appeas'd", sahiba for lady, sahib for sir, and sari for robe), and the addition of some Indian dialogue, the production used Shakespeare's text.


In the movie, Shakespeare in Love, attention is paid to a succession performance of the play for Queen Elizabeth I.

David Mamet, in an interview with Leonard Lopate on WNYC, claimed that his favorite film of 2006, , was based on Shakespeare's play, "Two Gentlemen of Verona." He cited Sacha Baron Cohen and Cohen's background in classics as proof.


The 2000, Season 4 episode of "Dawson's Creek" entitled "The Two Gentlemen of Capeside" was taken lightly from the theme of the play. Dawson and Pacey, best friends on the show, have been driven apart over their love for the same woman. The play is referenced early in the episode as the characters are reading it for their English class.


External links

* [ The Two Gentlemen of Verona] — plain text from Project Gutenberg
* [ The Two Gentlemen of Verona] — HTML version of this title.
* [ The Two Gentlemen of Verona] — Scene-indexed and searchable version of the play.
* [ The Two Gentlemen of Verona musical] — The script to the MacDermot-Guare-Shapiro musical adaptation.

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