“The Two Gentlemen of Verona,” from The Oxford Shakespeare: The Complete Works, by William Shakespeare

My Copy: 9780199267170

(Note: Amended 1/9 due to info lost with internet connection last night.)

This is reputed to be Shakespeare’s first credited work, and I have to say it’s not that bad of a start to his prolific career.

At least it’s mostly a comedy.

“The Two Gentlemen of Verona” refers to Valentine and Proteus, good friends who travel to Milan for opportunity and fall in love with the same woman, Sylvia. But that’s just a small problem. Proteus has left behind a sweetheart, Julia, who learns about his new love and disguises herself to follow along and see the truth. And then there is Thurio, who Sylvia can’t stand but her father wants her to marry Thurio.

That’s the basic gist of it. There are a handful of minor characters that help facilitate events, as it should be. While reading this, I had my neon pen at the ready to underline words I wasn’t sure of. It made me wish I had prepared myself more for the language.

But one thing I discovered is what I’m always having to tell my students: context clues. Some phrases and such don’t translate well, but you can get the gist of what they’re talking about. I read the play’s summary in SparkNotes just to double check myself and I was pretty much on the nose about what was going on, even if I got lost a few times in the reading process.

I feel like this was a good early effort for Shakespeare, though it does feel a bit clumsier than his more famous other works that I had to read in school. It felt like it took a bit too long setting up the events to come, and then things went at a relatively even pace.

Anyway, 1 down, oodles more to go. I think it was a pretty good story, with enough jokes, twists and turns to keep you occupied at least.

I’ll be happy to return to “The Two Gentlemen of Verona” when I get a better grasp of the language.

But here’s some “Quotables” I found that ring a bell (or just sound good):

SPEED: If you love her you cannot see her.

VALENTINE: Why?

SPEED: Because love is blind. O that you had mine eyes or your own eyes and the lights they were wont to have when you chid at Sir Proteus for going ungartered.

VALENTINE: What should I see then?

SPEED: Your own present folly and her passing deformity…

–Act 2, Scene 1

LUCETTA (Julia’s servant): I do not seek to quench your love’s hot fire,

But qualify the fire’s extreme rage,

Lest it should burn above the bounds of reason.

–Act 2, Scene 7

THURIO: What says she [Sylvia] to my birth?

PROTEUS: That you are well derived.

JULIA (aside): True: from a gentleman to a fool.

–Act 5, Scene 2

I’m looking forward to finding more classic insults and comedic moments in his works to see if they can make me laugh (or I can understand ’em) as time goes on.

***

I found a nice blog post about how to get the gist of Shakespeare. I agree that it’s best to read the play/work twice: once for fun and once to get the meaning clearer. That’s what I did, and I think it worked. The site also mentions trying to get hands on an Oxford English Dictionary.

Unfortunately, the world conspired against me this morning when I tried to do that very thing (or at least get a good version of it). I got a call while outside the bookstore door telling me to hurry up and get to work. I was mad, because I was nearly an hour away and wondered what happened to the co-worker that was supposed to show. But as soon as I hung up, the doors opened and I went in.

I didn’t get an OED, but I did find a books about Shakespearean language and literature that I wish I’d discovered sooner. I’ll make sure to review them later (and I’ll be using them as a good short-term solution to my diction problem).

I learned that when it comes to 18th century language and before, a Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (aka, my Great Red Oracle) isn’t all that helpful for helping me understand the changed context of the words. But it’s still a good backup, far better than nothing.

Maybe there’s a disc-version of the OED, I dunno. Worth looking into.

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