|The uncertain glory of an April day|
Act 1, scene 3, line 86
Who is Sylvia? What is she,
That all our swains commend her?
Act 4, scene 2, lines 41–42
While the word “gentlemen” suggests that its heroes are adults, Two Gentlemen of Verona is more intelligible if we think of them as boys, leaving home for the first time. One has a crush on a girl, Julia, though he hasn’t yet told her.
Sent to court to learn to be “perfect gentlemen," Valentine and Proteus are derailed by their attraction to Sylvia, the ruler’s daughter. Valentine’s mental denseness does not deter Sylvia from returning his love, but he is caught, and banished, when he tries to elope with her. Proteus’ desire for Sylvia wipes out his former love, leading him into despicable acts that win scorn from Sylvia and wound Julia, who has pursued him disguised as a boy.
When Sylvia follows Valentine into banishment, Proteus follows Sylvia, and Julia follows Proteus, the stage is set for a disturbing ending. But the stage is also set for the “gentlemen” to take small steps toward maturity.
Shakespeare wrote The Two Gentlemen of Verona early on; suggested dates are between 1590 and 1595. It was published in the 1623 First Folio. Sources include Jorge de Montemayor's Diana Enamorada.
Adapted from the Folger Library Shakespeare edition, edited by Barbara A. Mowat and Paul Werstine. © 1999 Folger Shakespeare Library
June Schlueter, ed. Two Gentlemen of Verona: Critical Essays. New York: Garland Publishing, 1996.
The Two Gentlemen of Verona
After Angelica Kauffmann. Two gentlemen of Verona ... act V, scene IV. Print, ca. 19th century
Inside the Collection
Folios from the Collection: The Two Gentlemen of Verona