Two Gentlemen of Verona (1924) Yale/Appendix A
Sources of the Play
Although a considerable number of literary origins have been proposed for one part or another of The Two Gentlemen of Verona, the source of the main action is represented best, so far as we now know, by the story of Felix and Felismena in Diana Enamorada, a pastoral romance of adventurous incidents written in Spanish by Jorge de Montemayor, and first printed in 1542. This story, we may assume, was accessible to Shakespeare in other forms than the Spanish. Bartholomew Yonge's English translation of Diana was not published until 1598; but he tells us that it had been in manuscript for sixteen years, and we know that before 1598 two other English translations of parts of Montemayor's work existed in unpublished form. A French translation of relevant parts of Diana was printed in 1578 and 1587. It is possible also that the lost play Felix and Philiomena, acted at Greenwich in 1584, treated the same fiction.
Directly or indirectly, then, the main plot of Shakespeare's play seems to derive from Montemayor's story; and although we cannot be sure as to contributions from intermediate sources, a comparison of the play and the Spanish romance probably discloses fairly enough at least the general nature of Shakespeare's indebtedness to predecessors, and the direction of his originality. Among the chief matters in which the play resembles the narrative are the following: Proteus' employing Julia's maid as intermediary, and Julia's exhibition of coyness in receiving his letter (I. ii); the breach in the intimacy of the lovers caused by the sending of Proteus to court; the pursuit of Proteus by Julia in disguise; Julia's lodging at an inn and overhearing Proteus' serenade to Silvia (IV. ii); the disguised Julia's taking service with Proteus as his page, and being sent by him to advance his suit to Silvia; the conversation between Julia and Silvia concerning Proteus' former love, and Silvia's rejection of his addresses (IV. iv); and Julia's final reunion with Proteus in the forest. One may add that the Felix (Proteus) of Montemayor has a conventional page who provides at least something of the role of Launce.
The more obvious departures of the play from the inherited story are the following: the presence of Valentine, about whom are developed the theme of manly friendship and the incidents of Proteus' treachery; the addition of Thurio, Eglamour, and Speed; the development of the rôle of the Duke as the father of Silvia; and the suppression of Celia's (Silvia's) headlong passion for the supposed boy, Felismena (Julia), and hence the elimination of Celia's voluntary death from hopeless love. These external changes, however, are far less important than the more subtle and profound departures of Shakespeare in characterization and in poetry. The superiority of the dramatist in these respects could be adequately demonstrated only through more ample and detailed comparisons than are possible here. The basis for one significant comparison may, however, be provided. Part of the most appealing conversation between Celia (Silvia) and the disguised Felismena (Julia) in the romance is recounted as follows (Yonge's translation, 1598, p. 64. Cf. Hazlitt's Shakespeare's Library, Part I, Vol. I, pp. 298, 299). Felismena is the speaker:
'There is not anie thing (saide Celia) that I would not do for thee, though I were determined not to loue him at all, who for my sake hath forsaken another. For it is no small point of wisedome for me, to Icarne by other womens harmes to be more wise, and warie in mine owne. Beleeue not good Lady (saide I) that there is any thing in the worlde, that can make Don Felix forget you. And if he hath cast off another for your sake, woonder not thereat, when your beautie and wisedome is so great, and the others so small, that there is no reason to thinke, that he will (though he hath woorthelie forsaken her for your sake) or euer can forget you for any woman else in the worlde. Doest thou then know Felismena (saide Celia) the lady whom thy Master did once loue and serue in his owne countrey? I know her (saide I) although not so well as it was needfull for me, to haue preuented so many mishaps, (and this I spake softly to my selfe). For my fathers house was neere to hers, but seeing your great beautie adorned with such perfections and wisedome, Don Felix can not be blamed, if he hath forgotten his first loue, onely to embrace and honour yours. To this did Celia answer merily, and smiling. Thou hast learned quickly of thy Master to sooth. Not so faire Ladie, saide I, but to serue you woulde I faine learne: for flatterie cannot be, where (in the iudgement of all) there are so manifest signes and proofes of this due commendation. Celia began in good earnest to aske me what manner of woman Felismena was; whom I answered, that touching her beautie. Some thought her to be very faire, but I was neuer of that opinion, bicause she hath many daies since wanted the chiefest thing that is requisite for it. What is that, said Celia? Content of minde, saide I, bicause perfect beautie can neuer be, where the same is not adioyned to it.'
The reader who will turn from this passage to the corresponding lines of the play (IV. iv. 125–185) may judge of Shakespeare's achievement in delicacy and richness of characterization, in pathos, and in poetry.