The Two Gentleman of Verona
Two trends that seem to do well in Hollywood these days are the romantic comedies and stories about teens. Some actors or writers seem to build entire careers around either or both. Early in Shakespeare's career, the same type of stories were drawing in the crowds. Two Gentleman of Verona was Shakespeare's first stab at writing romantic comedy and he decided to combine it with the familiar territory of the "coming of age" story and the "buddy" story. Also following popular trends of the time that worshiped anything Italian, he decided to set his young heroes in several Italian cities. Worrying more about exotic locales than geography, 'Two Gentleman' is romp around a fictional Northern Italy filled with lovers, disguised heroines, good-hearted rogues, misguided paternal figures, beautiful lyrical poetry and a bit with a dog.
As the play first appeared in print in the 1623 First Folio.
Valentine leaves his friend Proteus in Verona to go to Milan to continue his education at the Duke's court. Proteus, is very much in love with Julia, and decides to stay home. After Valentine's departure, Proteus' father Antonio decides to send his son to Milan. After bidding Julia a tender farewell and exchanging rings with her, Valentine leaves. In Milan, Proteus finds that Valentine has fallen in love with Silvia. However, the instant Proteus lays eyes on Silvia, he also falls madly in love with her and plots to gain her for himself. Valentine and Silvia decide to elope. Proteus thwarts his friend by telling the Duke of their plans. Banished, Valentine flees to the forest where he meets a band of outlaws who elect him their leader.
Meanwhile, as Launce the clown describes the bathroom habits of his dog crab, Proteus tries unsuccessfully to win Silvia for himself. He pretends to be helping Sir Thurio, an idiotic knight who is Valentine's rival. Julia disguises herself as a page to be with her beloved-who no longer cares for her. Proteus takes Julia into his service and sends her to woo Silvia for him. Heartbroken, Julia does as she is told, only to be amazed at Silvia's loyalty. When Silvia hears that the Duke is going to force her to marry Thurio, she arranges to escape to the forest with Sir Eglamour, a knight sworn to love's service. Proteus, Thurio, Julia, and the Duke end up in the forest. When Proteus gets Silvia in his power, he attempts to have his way with her. Valentine chides his disloyal friend, who immediately repents. As a sign of forgiveness, Valentine offers Silvia to Proteus. Julia faints and is identified by her ring. Thurio gives up all claims to Silvia and the Duke consents to Valentine and Silvia's marriage. Valentine suggest a double wedding and asks the Duke's pardon for the outlaw band. Wrongs are righted, love and friendship are restored, and everyone lives happily ever after.
Two Gentleman was written sometime between 1589-1592 and based on two works, Giovanni Boccaccio's anthology Decameron and Diana Enamorada (Diana in love) by Jorge de MonteMayor. The play falls within the works known as Shakespeare's 'Prentice Pieces', of which Comedy of Errors and Titus Andronicus are part, where he was trying not only to make his mark as a writer in a literary world dominated by university trained men, but also learning as his own craft as he went. While the play follows a conventional "romantic path it is interjected with observations by Launce, Shakespeare's first memorable character and his equally memorable dog Crab. The most challenging aspect of any staging often involves how to cast the role of Crab. While some companies are fortunate enough to have a trained dog or trainer on hand for a live rendering, some have Crab as a stuffed animal, puppet or off stage sound effect giving a unreal feel to an already outlandish play. Though many of his plays have been adapted to film and especially in a teenage setting, 'Two Gentleman', above all others would be most at home in the John Hughes medium. Valentine and Proteus, are two inexperienced young men, idealistic and headstrong in different ways who meet their matches in Silvia and Julia. The show has remained largely underplayed over the succeeding centuries and only in recent decades has been widely played .
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