Two Gentlemen of Verona (1924) Yale/Appendix B

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The History of the Play

We possess no text of The Two Gentlemen of Verona earlier than that in the First Folio of 1623, and for determining the precise date of composition we have inadequate evidence. Although the play is mentioned first, so far as we know, by Francis Meres in his Palladis Tamia, of 1598, certain features of style and dramatic technique indicate that it was written considerably earlier. Competent critics have proposed dates ranging between 1590 and 1595, the majority preferring the period 1591–1592. Since the extant text shows both signs of youth and characteristics which may be due to revision, we are not prohibited from surmising that Shakespeare wrote the play as early as 1590–1591, and that he or some one else made changes as late as 1591–1595. All we know for certain is that, as it stands, the play discloses bits of immature workmanship and irregularities which may arise from textual alteration.

In view of the fact that in later comedies Shakespeare improved upon virtually all features of The Two Gentlemen of Verona, we need not be surprised at the infrequency of stage-performances of this play. The first production of which we have a record is that by David Garrick at Drury Lane on December 22, 1762. The version presented included 'Alterations and Additions' by Benjamin Victor. Victor's literary audacity may be illustrated by his addition to the last act of two scenes designed for bringing Launce and Speed upon the stage again. The play was performed five times with success; but at the sixth performance occurred a riot motivated, apparently, partly by personal hostility to Garrick and partly by a desire for the restoration of admission at half-price. A more faithful presentation of Shakespeare's text occurred at Covent Garden on April 13, 1784; and in January, 1790, John Philip Kemble gave three performances of the original play at Drury Lane. On April 21, 1808, at Covent Garden, Kemble presented Victor's version, with alterations of his own. Somewhat later the play was degraded into an opera by Frederic Reynolds, and produced at Covent Garden on November 29, 1821, and on numerous subsequent dates. Shakespeare's own play was revived at Bath on March 23, 1822, and at Drury Lane, by Macready, on December 29, 1841. Charles Kean is said[1] to have produced it both in England and in America during the period 1840–1850, and during the following decade Samuel Phelps gave performances at Sadler's Wells.

During recent years notable productions have been achieved by Osmund Tearle at Stratford-upon-Avon in 1890, by Augustin Daly in New York and London in 1895, and by J. H. Leigh at the Court Theatre, London, in April, 1904. In observance of the Shakespeare Tercentenary, members of the University of Wisconsin gave two performances of the play in May, 1916.

  1. Cf. Harold Child, in The Two Gentlemen of Verona, edited by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch and John Dover Wilson (Cambridge, 1921), p. 106. I have found no other statement concerning these performances by Charles Kean.