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What Are the Origins of Shakespeare's "the Two Gentlemen of Verona"?

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  • Written By: A.E. Freeman
  • Edited By: Michelle Arevalo
  • Last Modified Date: 24 November 2016
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Considered a comedy, "The Two Gentlemen of Verona" was the first play written by William Shakespeare. As with many of his other works, it is said that Shakespeare pulled this tale from a number of other sources, including romances and stories from Spain and elsewhere in England. Some scholars claim a major source for the play was the poem "Diana Enamorada" by Jorge de Montemayor. Other alleged inspirations were the stories of Titus and Gisippus, published in a few sources, and "The Tragical Historie of Romeus and Juliet" by Arthur Brooke.

Like several of Shakespeare's other plays, "The Two Gentlemen of Verona" features the comedic exploits of a woman dressing as a man and confused lovers. It is often said that Shakespeare drew most of the plot of the play from the poem "Diana Enamorada," a Spanish pastoral romance. This poem features a man who professes his love for a woman, only to have her jokingly reject him. After the man is sent to another country, the woman follows him, in the disguise of a boy. Meanwhile, the man in the poem falls another woman, much like characters in "The Two Gentleman of Verona." The female dressed as a boy ends up acting as the go-between for the two lovers in the Spanish tale.

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Another frequently cited source for the "The Two Gentlemen of Verona" is the story of Titus and Gisippus. These are two characters from other stories that are close friends, much like Valentine and Proteus, the friends in Shakespeare's play. Titus and Gisippus appear in book II, chapter 12 of "The Governour" by Thomas Elyot, and in extensive collection of novellas included in "The Decameron" by Giovanni Bocaccio. Like Shakespeare's duo, Titus and Gisippus are inseparable friends until they both fall for the same woman.

A similar story is also found in "Euphues: Anatomy of Wit," which was published in 1579 by John Lyly, and also features two close friends who fight over a woman. In the end, one decides not to pursue her to preserve his friendship. Some say Lyly's style may also have had a great influence over the development of Shakespeare's own signature voice.

In addition to themes and style, "The Two Gentlemen of Verona" also borrows characters from other literary works. For instance, Shakespeare used Arthur Brooke's "The Tragical Historie of Romeus and Juliet" as a main source for his famous tragedy "Romeo and Juliet." The character called Friar Lawrence, which appears in Brooke's story, is in a later act of "Two Gentlemen of Verona." Shakespeare may have also taken a scene from Brooke's tale and used it in "Two Gentleman" — the one in which Valentine uses a ladder to hide from, and outwit, the Duke, the father of one of his loves.

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