Shakespeare’s Sources – The Two Gentlemen of Verona

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Diana Enamorada one of Shakespeare's main sources

Continuing my series on the sources for Shakespeare’s plays, I turn my attention to The Two Gentlemen of Verona. This is one of those plays were there is at least one very clear source, a Spanish pastoral romance called Diana Enamorada, written by Jorge de Montemayor and published in 1542. Shakespeare probably had access to one or more of the many English translations of this text which existed before 1598. Shakespeare owes the main plot of his play to Diana Enamorada, as well as numerous small details.

One similarity is Proteus’ employing Julia’s maid as intermediary, and Julia’s exhibition of coyness in receiving his letter. There is also the matter of the disguised Julia’s taking service with Proteus as his page, and being sent by him to advance his suit to Silvia. Interestingly this is a plot device which Shakespeare will use again in Twelfth Night and something he borrowed from his main Italian source for that play, in fact in many ways its use in The Two Gentlemen of Verona is closer to the structure in the Italian source than is its use in Twelfth Night for in The Two Gentlemen of Verona Julia disguises her self as a Page to follow the man she loves and suffers at his apparent abandonment and his use of her to woo his new love. Consider the similarity between these scenes from The Two Gentlemen of Verona and Twelfth Night

First from The Two Gentlemen of Verona … Julia’s distress at hearing about herself.




Why dost thou cry ‘alas’?


I cannot choose
But pity her.


Wherefore shouldst thou pity her?


Because methinks that she loved you as well
As you do love your lady Silvia:
She dreams of him that has forgot her love;
You dote on her that cares not for your love.
‘Tis pity love should be so contrary;
And thinking of it makes me cry ‘alas!’


Now from Twelfth Night  here is the disguised Viola discussing Orsino’s love for Olivia compared to her own for him.



Once more, Cesario,
Get thee to yond same sovereign cruelty:
Tell her, my love, more noble than the world,
Prizes not quantity of dirty lands;
The parts that fortune hath bestow’d upon her,
Tell her, I hold as giddily as fortune;
But ’tis that miracle and queen of gems
That nature pranks her in attracts my soul.


But if she cannot love you, sir?


I cannot be so answer’d.


Sooth, but you must.
Say that some lady, as perhaps there is,
Hath for your love a great a pang of heart
As you have for Olivia: you cannot love her;
You tell her so; must she not then be answer’d?


There is no woman’s sides
Can bide the beating of so strong a passion


Interestingly comparing these two plays with their two sources written some 10 years apart in Shakespeare’s career gives us a glimpse into the dense intertextualities which connects his works and their sources.

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Author:Liz Dollimore

Someone who loves listening to people talk about Shakespeare Liz tweets at @shakespeareBT
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  • William Ray

    Isn’t it interesting that Romeus and Juliet (1562) has the following verse:
    As out of a plank a nail doth drive
    So novel love out of the mind
    The ancient love doth rive

    –Which is so similar to TGofV: II,4:
    As one nail by strength drives out another
    So the remembrance of my former love
    Is by a new object quite forgotten

    And that Jehan de Simier, Alencon’s Master of the Wardrobe, had his brother killed for bedding the wife in 1579, and absconded to England; while Valentine states he has been banished because he killed a man?

    Another seeming puzzle is that there is much amusing dialogue about shepherd, sheep, and mutton. Christopher Hatton, Captain of the Queen’s bodyguard was often deemed by Elizabeth her sheep and her mutton.  Was Shakespeare presuming to lampoon the courtly relations of the Queen and her high official?  It is astounding that he would know about these things happening in 1579.

    But I forgot, Hatton was the rival at court of Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, who produced the satirically colored court romance called “A history of the Duke of Millayn and the Marques of Mantua”, shown at Whitehall December 26, 1579. A previous play of the sort attributed to Anthony Munday was “Two Italian Gentlemen” or Two Gentlemen of Italy”.  Munday was de Vere’s secretary.

    TGofV is first mentioned as Shakespeare’s by Meres in 1598 with the inference that along with eleven others it had played well before then.  Because of its beginning and ending like Boccaccio’s Tito and Gisippo, it considered an early play.  It bears resemblances to John Lyly’s Euphues and his Wit (1579).  Lyly was another secretary of de Vere’s. Because there is a topical reference to the comic master Tarlton acting a certain scene from it with a dog before the Queen, and Tarlton died in 1588, we would have to locate it in the mid-’80’s.  Shakespeare of Stratford had not arrived in London.

    Forget I said anything.

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