The Two Gentlemen of Verona (William Shakespeare)

51rKJu4sGELSo, the Big Bill project finally kicks off. As you may observe, I’m using the Oxford edition, which means I’m also using their chronology; dating Shakespeare’s plays tends to be an inexact science at times, and this is one of those ones that can only really be dated “before 1598”. However, there are apparently good arguments for considering this one an early work, and indeed quite a few folk—including the Oxford editors, obviously—seem to consider it his very first (which theory has apparently been offered since the early 1800s), possibly written as early as the late 1580s. Now, I’m not even remotely a Shakespeare scholar, so I’ll defer to the judgements of others on that front; taking it as a reader, though… yeah, not too hard to see why it’s thought to be an early work, cos frankly it feels like one. Plot seems to have been taken from a Spanish prose romance, of all things; the titular two gentlemen, Valentine and Proteus, are best friends until they both fall in love with the same woman, the Duke of Milan’s daughter. Proteus contrives to have his old friend banished, but still has to contend with the wealthy fop the Duke wants his daughter to marry, while a mild complication ensues when the girl Proteus left behind in Verona comes after him disguised as a boy. It’s really not up to much in a lot of ways, which is apparently at least one of the reasons TGoV is considered one of Shakespeare’s earliest plays, if not the earliest; the fact that the weak comedy relief provided by Proteus’ servant Lance seems to be considered the highlight of the thing by some critics kind of sums it up. It didn’t see print until the First Folio in 1623, so perhaps Big Bill himself had no great fondness for it. Still, even Shakespeare had to start somewhere, and it may well be more entertaining on stage than on the page…

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