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If we are wise enough to take this play as Falstaff preferred his sack, "simple of itself,” without afflicting ourselves with the consideration that it is not so poetical as some effusions of the great master, nor so humorous as others, we shall be worthily rewarded with the conviction that it is still poetical and humorous in an eminent degree. The characters are excellently diversified and contrasted; the language of the serious portion is beautiful in sentiment, and harmonious in versification; and the humor substantially rich, deformed as it may be with a somewhat inordinate proportion of that verbal quibbling which, in Shakspeare's day, was considered a genuine article in the mart of wit, although by modern taste deemed counterfeit. It must, however, be recollected that the illegitimate smartness is, for the most part, confined to the lower characters of the present drama; and that this species of humor, whatever its inferiority of cast, is still, if moderately administered, provocative of many a burst of genuine laughter, both on and off the stage. Nor is its genial influence confined to the weak or illiterate. What Swift says of vanity may be with equal truth applied to punning :
* T is an old maxim in the schools,
That vanity's the food of fools;
It seems all but certain that the “ Two GENTLEMEN OF VERONA” is mainly founded on a similar story, which occurs in the “ DIANA” of George of Montemayor; - a highly popular Spanish romance. That portion of the "DIANA” which appears to have been appropriated by Shakspeare, is the story of Felismena; the incidents of which too much resemble those that befall Julia and Proteus, to admit the supposition that the coincidence was accidental.
This play was originally printed in the first folio edition of the author's works (1623), seven years after his death. Malone supposes it to have been written in 1591, and that it was Shakspeare's first production for the stage. There is a strong probability, however, that it was composed some years earlier, as it is not easy to imagine that a dramatic faculty so wonderful as his should have lain dormant until he had attained the age of twenty-seven. It appears, from Mr. Collier's valuable researches, that in 1589, when Shakspeare was twenty-five only, he had become a joint proprietor in the Blackfriars Theater; and as his acting talent, in all likelihood, was but moderate, there can scarcely remain a doubt that he had, at that early period, raised himself to importance with his brethren by his transcendant genius for dramatic poetry, whether developed in working on the foundation laid by inferior artists, or in the production of fabrics altogether original.
It is neither easy nor material to assign any precise date for the supposed action of the “Two GENTLEMEN OP VERONa.” The duchy and city of Milan, for many years prior to Shakspeare's time, formed part of the dominions of the House of Austria. The emperor occasionally held his court there (as he is said to do in the early part of the play), and the dukes were his tributaries. As, however, the imagination delights to found its fictions on a ground of fact, we may fairly suppose, with an intelligent contemporary, that the transactions here detailed took place in the early part of the sixteenth century, when Charles the Fifth was Emperor of Austria, and Francesco Sforza Duke of Milan.
Two Gentlemen of Verona.
SCENE I. — An open place in Verona. Val. No, I will not, for it boots thee not.
Pro. What ?
Val. To be in love, where scorn is bought with Val. Cease to persuade, my loving Proteus; |
groans ; Home-keeping youth have ever homely wits : Coy looks with heart-sore sighs; one fading moWer 't not, affection chains thy tender days
ment's mirth, To the sweet glances of thy honored love, With twenty watchful, weary, tedious nights : I rather would entreat thy company,
If haply won, perhaps a hapless gain; To see the wonders of the world abroad,
If lost, why then a grievous labor won; Than living dully sluggardised at home,
However, but a folly bought with wit, Wear out thy youth with shapeless idleness. Or else a wit by folly vanquishéd. But, since thou lov'st, love still, and thrive therein, Pro. So, by your circumstance, you call me fool. Even as I would, when I to love begin.
Val. So, by your circumstance, I fear you 'll Pro. Wilt thou begone? Sweet Valentine,
prove. adieu !
Pro. ’T is love you cavil at; I am not love. Think on thy Proteus, when thou, haply, seest Val. Love is your master, for he masters you: Some rare note-worthy object in thy travel : And he that is so yokéd by a fool, Wish me partaker in thy happiness,
Methinks should not be chronicled for wise. When thou dost meet good hap: and in thy Pro. Yet writers say, “ As in the sweetest bud danger,
The eating canker dwells, so eating love | If ever danger do environ thee,
Inhabits in the finest wits of all." | Commend thy grievance to my holy prayers, Val. And writers say, “ As the most forward For I will be thy bead's-man, Valentine.
bud Val. And on a love-book pray for my success. Is eaten by the canker ere it blow, Pro. Upon some book I love, I'll pray for thee. Even so by love the young and tender wit
Val. That's on some shallow story of deep love, Is turned to folly; blasting in the bud, How young Leander crossed the Hellespont. Losing his verdure even in the prime,
Pro. That's a deep story of a deeper love; And all the fair effects of future hopes.” For he was more than over shoes in love.
But wherefore waste I time to counsel thee, Val. 'T is true; for you are over boots in love, That art a votary to fond desire ? And yet you never swam the Hellespont. Once more adieu : my father at the road Pro. Over the boots ? nay, give me not the boots. Expects my coming, there to see me shipped.
Pro. And thither will I bring thee, Valentine. Speed. Such another proof will make me cry Val. Sweet Proteus, no; now let us take our
6 Baa.” leave.
Pro. But dost thou hear ? gav'st thou my
letter To Milan, let me hear from thee by letters, to Julia ? Of thy success in love, and what news else
Speed. Ay, sir; I, a lost mutton, gave your Betideth here in absence of thy friend;
letter to her, a laced mutton; and she, a laced And I likewise will visit thee with mine.
mutton, gave me, a lost mutton, nothing for my Pro. All happiness bechance to thee in Milan! labor. Val. As much to you at home! and so, farewell. Pro. Here's too small a pasture for such a store
[Exit VALENTINE. of muttons. Pro. He after honor hunts, I after love:
Speed. If the ground be overcharged, you were He leaves his friends to dignify them more; best stick her. I leave myself, my friends, and all for love. Pro. Nay, in that you are astray; 't were best Thou, Julia, thou hast metamorphosed me;
pound you. Made me neglect my studies, lose my time, Speed. Nay, sir, less than a pound shall serve War with good counsel, set the world at nought; me for carrying your letter. Made wit with musing weak, heart sick with Pro. You mistake; I mean the pound, a pinthought.
Speed. From a pound to a pin? fold it over and Enter SPEED.
over, Speed. Sir Proteus, save you: Saw you my 'Tis threefold too little for carrying a letter to your master?
lover. Pro. But now he parted hence, to embark for Pro. But what said she ? did she nod ? Milan.
[Speed nods. Speed. Twenty to one, then, he is shipped al- Pro. Nod, I; why, that's noddy. ready;
Speed. You mistook, sir; I say, she did nod: And I have played the sheep, in losing him. and you ask me if she did nod; and I say, I.
Pro. Indeed a sheep doth very often stray, Pro. And that set together, is — noddy. An if the shepherd be awhile away.
Speed. Now you have taken the pains to set it Speed. You conclude that my master is a shep- together, take it for your pains. herd, then, and I a sheep ?
Pro. No, no, you shall have it for bearing the Pro. I do.
letter. Speed. Why then my horns are his horns, whe- Speed. Well, I perceive I must be fain to bear ther I wake or sleep.
Pro. A silly answer, and fitting well a sheep. Pro. Why, sir, how do you bear with me? Speed. This proves me still a sheep.
Speed. Marry, sir, the letter very orderly; havPro. True; and thy master a shepherd. ing nothing but the word, noddy, for my pains. Speed. Nay, that I can deny by a circumstance. Pro. Beshrew me, but you have a quick wit.
Pro. It shall go hard, but I'll prove it by Speed. And yet it cannot overtake your slow another.
purse. Speed. The shepherd seeks the sheep, and not Pro. Come, come, open the matter in brief: the sheep the shepherd; but I seek my master, What said she ? and my master seeks not me: therefore, I am no Speed. Open your purse, that the money, and sheep.
the matter, may be both at once delivered. Pro. The sheep for fodder follow the shepherd, Pro. Well, sir, here is for your pains: What the shepherd for food follows not the sheep; thou said she? for wages followest thy master, thy master for Speed. Truly, sir, I think you'll hardly win wages follows not thee: therefore, thou art a sheep. her.
Pro. Why? Couldst thou perceive so much Luc. Pardon, dear madam; 't is a passing shame, from her?
That I, unworthy body as I am, Speed. Sir, I could perceive nothing at all from Should censure thus on lovely gentlemen. her; no, not so much as a ducat for delivering Jul. Why not on Proteus, as of all the rest? your letter: And being so hard to me that brought Luc. Then thus, — of many good I think him your mind, I fear, she'll prove as hard to you in
best. telling her mind. Give her no token but stones : Jul. Your reason ? for she's as hard as steel.
Luc. I have no other but a woman's reason; Pro. What, said she nothing ?
I think him so, because I think him so. Speed. No, not so much as « Take this for Jul. And wouldst thou have me cast my love on thy pains.” To testify your bounty, I thank you,
him ? you have testerned me; in requital whereof, hence- Luc. Ay, if you thought your love not cast forth carry your letters yourself: and so, sir, I'll
away. commend you to my master.
Jul. Why, he of all the rest hath never moved Pro. Go, go, be gone, to save your ship from wreck;
Luc. Yet he, of all the rest, I think, best loves Which cannot perish, having thee aboard,
ye. Being destined to a drier death on shore:
Jul. His little speaking shews his love but small. I must go send some better messenger;
Luc. Fire that's closest kept, burns most of all. I fear my Julia would not deign my lines,
Jul. They do not love that do not shew their Receiving them from such a worthless post.
love. Luuc. O, they love least that let men know their
Jul. I would, I knew his mind. SCENE II. — The same. Garden of JULIA'S Luc. Peruse this
Jul. “To Julia,”-Say, from whom?
Luc. That the contents will shew.
Jul. Say, say; who gave it thee?
from Proteus : Luc. Ay, madam, so you stumble not unheed- He would have given it you, but I, being in the fully.
way, Jul. Of all the fair resort of gentlemen, Did in your name receive it; pardon the fault, I That every day with parle encounter me,
pray. In thy opinion, which is worthiest love?
Jul. Now, by my modesty, a goodly broker! Luc. Please you, repeat their names, I'll shew Dare you presume to harbor wanton lines ?
To whisper and conspire against my youth? According to my shallow simple skill.
Now, trust me, 't is an office of great worth,
There, take the paper, see it be returned;
Luc. To plead for love, deserves more fee than Jul. What think'st thou of the rich Mercatio?