THE TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA.
THIS is little more than the first outlines of a
comedy loosely sketched in. It is the story of
a novel dramatised with very little labour or
pretension; yet there are passages of high poetical
spirit, and of inimitable quaintness of humour,
which are undoubtedly Shakespear's, and
there is throughout the conduct of the fable, a
careless grace and felicity which marks it for
his. One of the editors (we believe, Mr. Pope)
remarks in a marginal note to the TWO GENTLEMEN
OF VERONA--"It is observable (I
know not for what cause) that the style of this
comedy is less figurative, and more natural and
unaffected than the greater part of this author's,
though supposed to be one of the first he wrote."
Yet so little does the editor appear to have made
up his mind upon this subject, that we find the
following note to the very next (the second)
scene. "This whole scene, like many
in these plays (some of which I believe were
written by Shakespear, and others interpolated
by the players) is composed of the lowest and
most trifling conceits, to be accounted for only
by the gross taste of the age he lived in: Populo
ut placerent. I wish I had authority to
leave them out, but I have done all I could, set
a mark of reprobation upon them, throughout
this edition." It is strange that our fastidious
critic should fall so soon from praising to reprobating.
The style of the familiar parts of this
comedy is indeed made up of conceits--low
they may be for what we know, but then they
are not poor, but rich ones. The scene of
Launce with his dog (not that in the second,
but that in the fourth act) is a perfect treat in
the way of farcical drollery and invention; nor
do we think Speed's manner of proving his master
to be in love deficient in wit or sense, though
the style may be criticised as not simple enough
for the modern taste.
"Valentine. Why, how know you that I am in love?|
Speed. Marry, by these special marks first, you have
learned, like Sir Protheus, to wreathe your arms like a
mal-content, to relish a love-song like a robin-red-breast,
to walk alone like one that had the pestilence, to sigh like
a school-boy that had lost his A B C, to weep like a young
wench that had lost her grandam, to fast like one that
takes diet, to watch like one that fears robbing, to speak
puling like a beggar at Hallowmas. You were wont, when
you laughed, to crow like a cock; when you walked, to
walk like one of the lions; when you fasted, it was presently
after dinner; when you looked sadly, it was for want
of money; and now you are metamorphosed with a mistress,
that when I look on you, I can hardly think you my master."
The tender scenes in this play, though not so
highly wrought as in some others, have often
much sweetness of sentiment and expression.
There is something pretty and playful in the
conversation of Julia with her maid, when she
shews such a disposition to coquetry about receiving
the letter from Protheus; and her behaviour
afterwards and her disappointment, when
she finds him faithless to his vows, remind us
at a distance of Imogen's tender constancy.
Her answer to Lucetta, who advises her against
following her lover in disguise, is a beautiful
piece of poetry.
"Lucetta. I do not seek to quench your love's hot fire,|
But qualify the fire's extremest rage,
Lest it should burn above the bounds of reason.
Julia. The more thou damm'st it up, the more it burns;
The current that with gentle murmur glides,
Thou know'st, being stopp'd, impatiently doth rage;
But when his fair course is not hindered,
He makes sweet music with th' enamell'd stones,
Giving a gentle kiss to every sedge
He overtaketh in his pilgrimage:
And so by many winding nooks he strays,
With willing sport, to the wild ocean.
Then let me go, and hinder not my course;
I'll be as patient as a gentle stream,
And make a pastime of each weary step,
Till the last step have brought me to my love;
And there I'll rest, as after much turmoil,
A blessed soul doth in Elysium."
If Shakespear indeed had written only this
and other passages in the TWO GENTLEMEN
OF VERONA, he would almost have deserved
Milton's praise of him--
"And sweetest Shakespear, Fancy's child,|
Warbles his native wood-notes wild."
But as it is, he deserves rather more praise than this.