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Wherefore Verona in The Two Gentlemen of Verona?

The greatest variety in the titles of Shakespeare's plays can be found in the comedies: one, for example, is a complete sentence, All's Well That Ends Well; one indicates the genre, The Comedy of Errors. Unlike the histories, named for the ruling sovereign, and the tragedies, named for the principal character, the comedies never have the proper name of a character in the title. The one exception would be Cymbeline, but the Folio groups this play with the tragedies. Pericles, another potential exception, the Folio does not even include. Three of the comedies indicate location in their titles: The Merchant of Venice, The Merry Wives of Windsor, and The Two Gentlemen of Verona. Typically, the titles of histories and tragedies do not specify location, with the notable exception of Timon of Athens.

Thomas Berger has ruminated on Shakespeare's titles, making astute observations about the changing titles from quarto texts to the Folio, especially the histories. As Berger succinctly states, "Titles matter. Titles matter a lot." (1) But we have to ask: these titles matter to whom, and how? We have no way of knowing, of course, how or what Shakespeare thought about his plays' titles. Berger also observes, "If I have fewer 'problems' with the titles of Shakespeare's comedies and tragedies, it is not because the problems are fewer or absent; if anything, the problems are less apparent, more complex." (2) Building on this "less apparent" dimension of The Two Gentlemen of Verona, this essay contends that the play has an inappropriate title, based on a faulty location.

If we think about the matter, we have to admit that we do not know where the plays' titles come from. We can assume that Shakespeare created the titles, but we cannot be certain. Considering that roughly half the plays had not appeared in quarto format in Shakespeare's lifetime, we might have even less reason to be confident about the titles that end up in the Folio. That is, Shakespeare presumably would have had no involvement in the construction of the Folio, unless he left plans behind. Rather, the "editors" of the Folio, probably John Heminge and Henry Condell, might well have been the ones who made the decisions about titles; they certainly participated directly in gathering the texts for inclusion, as they tell us. They may also have decided to arrange the plays by genre. (3)

If we turn to the popular Tom Stoppard-Marc Norman film Shakespeare in Love for illumination, we can learn something about the possibly arbitrary nature of title decisions, remembering that this film is a fiction about fiction-making. Early on, Henslowe tries to reassure Fennyman, one of his financial backers, that he will be getting a new play from Will Shakespeare. Henslowe describes this play thus: "It's a crowd-tickler--mistaken identities, a shipwreck, a pirate king, a bit with a dog, and love triumphant" Fennyman asks, "What's the title?" and Henslowe replies, "Romeo and Ethel the Pirate's Daughter." Fennyman says succinctly, "Good title." (4) In the conversation between Shakespeare and Marlowe, Shakespeare praises Doctor Faustus and even quotes from it. But Marlowe says, "I have a new one nearly done, and better. The Massacre at Paris." (5) And Shakespeare responds, "Good title." He then reveals the title of the play that he is writing: Romeo and Ethel the Pirate's Daughter, at which he sighs "despondently." (6) Much later, as Shakespeare discusses the play with Edward Alleyn, Alleyn blurts out, "The title won't do"; then he adds, "Romeo and Juliet--just a suggestion,' To which the grateful Shakespeare responds, "Thank you, Ned." (7) It's been Romeo and Juliet ever since. I think that in their witty and informed way, Stoppard and Norman have probably come close to the mark about how plays may get their titles. One can easily imagine such exchanges, without being able to document them, in the rough-and-tumble theater world. The Two Gentlemen of Verona: good title; that is, it sounds precise.

While acknowledging the potential uncertainty of some titles, we can nevertheless conclude that a number of play titles appear to be accurate about the play, if not altogether informative--again, especially the comedies. As You Like It, for example, tells us nothing about this play or what its focus might be. Indeed, we would be hard pressed to have any clue about the possible contents of the play or where it occurs, based on the title alone. We assume that we have a hint about the play entitled Twelfth Night, until we read or see the play and find no references to Epiphany in it. The title may thus seem arbitrary, compounded by its subtitle: Or, What You Will. Thomas Berger notes about another early comedy, "Love's Labour's Lost is a play about language, its title a quibble ambiguously presented in the apostrophic-free quarto title: Loues labors lost. The folios catalog drops the s in labors, but it is picked up again in the head title and running titles." (8) Even the seeming assurance of Ali's Well That Ends Well may be shaken by the play's conclusion, in which this title appears all the more problematic. Does anyone find the titles Julius Caesar or Troilus and Cressida truly indicative of the narrative focus of these plays?

The title The Merchant of Venice, on the other hand, hints about the play in the sense that we can be confident that this play focuses on a merchant who lives in Venice. But if we ask our students who are studying Merchant for the first time (or spectators seeing the play for the first time) who is the merchant, they regularly answer "Shylock." When we inform them that Antonio is actually the play's "merchant" they think that we're probably playing another one of those insider literary games. Even the questions from Portia in the trial scene do not always satisfy: "Which is the merchant here and which the Jew?" (4.1.172). (9) This makes a clearer distinction than the play does elsewhere. The honest response of students underscores the obvious prominence of Shylock in the play. The 1598 entry in the Stationers' Register for the play indicates, "A booke of the Marchaunt of Venyce or otherwise called the ]ewe of Venyce," suggesting uncertainty. (10) George Granville seized on this alternative title when he rewrote the play in 1701 and named it The Jew of Venice, a popular version that held the stage for forty years. At least no one doubts that the play takes place in Venice. But I have my doubts about Verona.

Two Gentlemen appears as a printed text for the first time in the Folio. We have no recorded performances of the play in Shakespeare's lifetime, not until the eighteenth century, in fact. Francis Meres, in Palladis Tamia (1598), does list among Shakespeare's comedies "his Gentlemen of Verona," (11) which scholars have always assumed is the Folio play The Two Gentlemen of Verona. I want to cast doubt on that assumption. I note some confusion about the play in lists found in the latter part of the seventeenth century. T. Goffe's Careless Shepherdess (1656) lists titles of various plays by Shakespeare and includes both "Gentleman of Verona" and "Two Gentlemen of Verona." (12) Edward Archer in the same year cites "Gentleman of Verona" a repetition of the puzzling singular form of the title. (13) Francis Kirkman also uses this form in his 1671 Catalogue: "Gentleman of Verona." (14) Clearly, some uncertainty about the title persists.

The sanction for my inquiry comes in part from Gary Taylor's provocative essay about Measure for Measure in which he argues that the play does not take place in Vienna. (15) As Taylor observes, no play up to 1660 has Vienna as a setting. He insists that Shakespeare was thinking of Italy, not Germany, and that Ferrara was the likely location. I agree that Vienna makes little sense in that play, whatever we might think about Ferrara as the alternative. Therefore, we certainly have reason to question the location of at least some plays; we know also that the texts of the plays often remain vague about location--think of King Lear, for example, in which the only place name is Dover. Since the eighteenth century, editors have indicated the location of the action for individual scenes. Much of this seeming information remains arbitrary, if not sometimes fanciful. The Winter's Tale makes clear that the action takes place in two locations--Sicily and Bohemia--which Shakespeare borrowed from his source, Robert Greene's Pandosto; but Shakespeare reverses where the action occurs. We have difficulty, however, knowing the location of, say, act 3, scene 1, in which appear Cleomenes and Dion, who have journeyed to Delphos to receive the message from Apollo's oracle and are now returning to Leontes' court. Editors have proposed some imaginative and seemingly precise locations, although the text offers no clue. The editor of the play for The Complete Pelican Shakespeare, the new edition of 2002, locates the scene as "somewhere on the journey back to Sicilia"; whereas the editor of the 1969 Complete Pelican had more precise ideas: "A posting inn en route to Leontes' palace." (16)

How do we know that Two Gentlemen takes place in Verona, at least partly? Simply put, we do not, except that editors tell us that certain scenes take place in Verona. The play names "Verona" only four times, and two of those may be textual error. In act 3, scene 1, the Duke of Milan tries to make Valentine believe that he pursues a lover: "There is a lady in Verona here /Whom I affect" (81-82). But since the action manifestly takes place in Milan, this surely must be some kind of uncorrected textual error. This reference constitutes the play's first reference to Verona. At the play's conclusion, Valentine says to Thurio, the would-be lover of Silvia, "Do not name Silvia thine; if once again, / Verona shall not hold thee"(5.4.129-30). But Thurio lives in Milan--another textual error. Some editions, such as The Riverside Shakespeare, emend these examples to "Milan" and thus eradicate two Verona references.

The other two references come in Valentine's encounter with the outlaws in the forest near Mantua. We find this exchange between the outlaws and Valentine:

Second Outlaw: Whither travel you?

Valentine: To Verona.

First Outlaw: Whence came you?

Valentine: From Milan. (4.1.16-19)

Valentine volunteers information that he has stayed in Milan "some sixteen months" (21). We could decide that Valentine truthfully indicates his intended destination. That in itself does not prove that he hails from Verona. A few lines later, the third outlaw, imitating Valentine's claim of banishment, says, "Myself was from Verona banished / For practicing to steal away a lady" (48-49). This also does not prove that part of the play takes place in Verona. If we add up the four references to Verona, we can only conclude that they prove nothing about the play's location, certainly not the first part of the play. No one in the opening scenes, presumably taking place in Verona, ever identifies the place. It remains nameless.

This stands in radical contrast to Romeo and Juliet, one of Shakespeare's earliest tragedies, perhaps written not long after Two Gentlemen. Here the characters repeatedly refer to Verona, some eleven times, in fact. The prologue, we recall, begins by referring to "fair Verona, where we lay our scene" (2). Even as the Friar tries to mitigate the terms and sting of Romeo's banishment in act 3, Romeo will have none of that. He defines Verona: "There is no world without Verona walls, / But purgatory, torture, hell itself. / Hence banished is banished from the world" (3.3.17-19). He finds, of course, another life, however temporary, in Mantua, the place where Two Gentlemen ends. Mantua starts out to be the place of escape and new life for Romeo and Juliet, but it does not achieve this purpose. Romeo returns to Verona to face death and the ostensibly dead Juliet. The outskirts of Mantua in Two Gentlemen become a place of benign reconciliation, however problematic we may regard the ending. As Shakespeare shows in Romeo, he can be explicit and consistent about location, even Verona. (17)

Perhaps the sources for Two Gentlemen gave Shakespeare the idea of locating the play in Verona? Not so. The principal source, Jorge de Montemayor's Spanish prose romance Diana (1542), translated into French in 1578 and into English in 1598, provides Shakespeare with the conflict of love triangles. But Montemayor presents a pastoral world of shepherds and mythical cities. Shakespeare also appropriated the story of two friends, Titus and Gisippus, found in Thomas Elyot's Book Named the Governor (1531), which takes place in Athens. (18) Shakespeare certainly found Verona, for example, in the source for Romeo and Juliet: Arthur Brooke's poem Romeus and Juliet. We can multiply the examples of sources that provide Shakespeare his locations, such as The Winter's Tale, cited above.

In pondering the question of why Verona ends up in the title of the play, Giorgio Melchiori concludes that Shakespeare and the players "must ... have counted on the appeal of that foreign place-name, Verona, on their potential audience." (19) Thus, Verona would serve advertising purposes. Of course, Melchiori only offers a guess, reflecting our inability to pin this down. Obviously, Shakespeare had a penchant for Mediterranean and especially Italian names--for example, Padua, Venice, Messina, and Florence. We do know that Shakespeare in the early 1590s wrote three plays that have strong connections to Verona: Two Gentlemen, Romeo and Juliet, and The Taming of the Shrew. In fact, only Shakespeare in the drama up to the time of the Folio of 1623 refers to Verona. (20) He also indicates that Michael Cassio in Othello comes from Verona. Certainly the choice of the city of Verona to include in the title of Two Gentlemen seems to have come out of thin air, or at least this city gains no precise reference in the play.

Not surprisingly, editors of Two Gentlemen have dutifully noted the curious absence of specific references to Verona. About forty years ago, Clifford Leech edited the play for the Arden series. He lists twenty instances of "statements, or absence of statements, concerning place." (21) This impressive list makes the case that the play contains at best an imprecision about places, including Verona. Item number 1, for example: "Apart from the title of the play, there is no indication that the opening scenes take place in Verona, or that Valentine, Proteus, and Julia come from there." (22) These observations lead Leech to offer a stunning, conjectural rendition of the play's composition, with its several layers of rewriting and omissions. In fact, Leech perceives "four stages in the play's composition" (23) and concludes that the manuscript that went to the print shop was Shakespeare's foul papers. One does not have to accept Leech's fantasy of revision to decide that an extraordinary number of textual problems lurk in this seemingly simple play. A possible conclusion: Shakespeare left the play in a state of disrepair or incompletion, and that text Heminge and Condell appropriated for the Folio.

The latest Arden editor, William Carroll, also comments on location in the play. He asserts, "No Elizabethan audience could otherwise have identified the location of the first act of the play except from its title, presumably used in announcing performances." (24) We cannot know, of course, if the play from its beginning had Verona in its title, and we have no recorded early performances. Even if audiences knew the title of the play, they would not be able to assign Verona to any particular part. The editor notes that no specific locations, such as landmarks, within Verona ever get mentioned, as he also notes Shakespeare's celebrated faulty knowledge of Italian geography, such that one could sail from Verona to Milan. (25) Carroll concludes, "Verona is named in Two Gentlemen solely, however, as the place of origin and the point of departure for five of the main characters." (26) But this statement misleads, since the play clearly does not name Verona as the place of origin at all. The play's reference to another Italian city, Padua, Carroll suggests, exists as "either a joke, a confusion by Shakespeare or an error in the transcription and printing process." (27) In a word, this play presents multiple problems regarding location.

In his first speech, Valentine, speaking to Proteus, announces his intention to travel abroad, "To see the wonders of the world" rather than "living dully sluggardized at home" (1.1.6, 7). Proteus, by contrast, wants to remain and pursue his love of Julia. A bit later, Valentine says, "now let us take our leave. / To Milan let me hear from thee by letters" (56-57). And Proteus responds, "All happiness bechance to thee in Milan!" (61). And Proteus says to the entering Speed, "But now he [Valentine] parted hence to embark for Milan" (71). When we next see Valentine, we know that he now resides in Milan and that all action will take place there, except when, being banished, Valentine makes his way to Mantua. In this opening scene, within the space of fifteen lines, characters mention Milan three times as the place to which Valentine goes. In other words, Shakespeare obviously did not resist indicating location. Not so with Verona, of course.

As a sign of the playwright's reluctance or failure to name Verona, I cite several instances in which indicating Verona would be both logical and natural. These examples underscore Shakespeare's reticence about Verona, his writing contrary to expectation, and his seeming to go out of the way to avoid naming Verona. No reference occurs in act 1, even though that might be expected, as when Valentine says that he is going to Milan, he might easily have referred to the city that he is leaving behind. The exchange between the Duke and Valentine in 2.4 offers several opportunities, starting with the Duke's indicating that Valentine's "father is in good health" (48), which he bases on a letter; but he does not say where the father lives. Then the Duke asks Valentine, "Know ye Don Antonio, your countryman?" (52). The Duke might readily have mentioned Verona, rather than the general, unspecified "countryman." In this conversation, the Duke reveals that Proteus has arrived in Milan, stating "here he means to spend his time awhile" (78). Valentine identifies Proteus as one whom he has known since infancy--"We have conversed and spent our hours together" (61)--but he does not say where.

Proteus's arrival in act 2, scene 4, provokes greetings from Valentine and Silvia, but no mention of Verona. Silvia addresses Proteus, "Once more, new servant, welcome. / I'll leave you to confer of home affairs" (116-17). But where is home? And Valentine, once Silvia exits, asks his friend, "Now tell me, how do all from whence you came?" (120). We would not have been surprised to hear Valentine ask, "Now tell me, how is everyone in Verona?" Proteus answers by saying, "Your friends are well and have them much commended" (121). References to other people do not generate a citation of Verona either. "Home" and "from whence" remain unspecified.

In act 2, scene 7, the last scene that allegedly takes place in Verona, Julia discusses with Lucetta her intention to pursue Proteus: "I may undertake / A journey to my loving Proteus" (6-7). We already know that Proteus resides now in Milan; so we learn the direction of Julia's intended journey. Lucetta cautions, "Alas, the way is wearisome and long!" (8). She might have indicated, "from Verona." As Julia frets about the trip and her intended disguise as a male page, she worries about how the world will perceive her "for undertaking so unstaid a journey" (60). And Lucetta responds, "If you think so, then stay at home and go not" (62). Again,"home" does not get named. Lucetta could easily and naturally have said, "stay in Verona and go not." When Julia encounters Proteus in Milan, we again find no reference to Verona. Proteus, for example, in act 4, scene 2, responding to Silvia, says, "I grant, sweet love, that I did love a lady, / But she is dead" (106-7). In addition to the falsehood about Julia's death (she stands nearby in disguise), one could reasonably have expected Proteus to say where this love had existed. Getting the "servant" Julia to do his bidding, Proteus requests that she "take this ring with thee; / Deliver it to Madam Silvia-- / She loved me well delivered it to me" (4.4.68-70). Duplicity aside, Proteus gives no hint about where this former love lives or lived. When Julia asks, "She is dead, belike?" (72), Proteus contradicts his earlier statement by answering, "Not so; I think she lives" (73). When he leaves, Julia claims, "This ring I gave him when he parted from me" (96), but she does not indicate that they had parted in Verona.

As noted above, the two reliable references to Verona come in Valentine's exchange with the outlaws in act 4, scene 1. Valentine insists that he has come from Milan and is going to Verona. The play does not clarify why he chooses Verona as a destination. We can imagine that it is "home," but the play does not so indicate. Ironically, only the third outlaw makes a convincing case about Verona when he asserts that he "was from Verona banished" (48). Finally, a character makes an explicit link to Verona, if only to have been banished from that city. This brief survey of opportunities to name Verona that Shakespeare forgoes underscores how unlocalized part of the play is, despite its title. Why, then, does Shakespeare avoid mentioning Verona?

He does not hesitate to tell us that Valentine has gone in exile to Mantua, or at least a forest nearby. Actually, when we first see him in act 4, scene 1, after banishment from Milan, we cannot be sure precisely where he encounters the outlaws. The Pelican editor locates the scene as "a forest on the border of Mantua," but nothing in the text to this point identifies where the scene takes place. We do not learn this until Silvia's speech at 4.3.22-23. If Valentine is making his way back to "Verona," he has certainly begun in an odd way. Unlike the situation in Romeo and Juliet in which Friar Laurence arranges for Romeo to go to Mantua in his banishment and there await a change in attitude and an opportunity to return to Verona, Valentine has not hinted at where he will go from Milan and why.

Therefore, Valentine may be as surprised as we to are find himself in an area near Mantua--and in the presence of the outlaws, who have their own checkered past, including banishment for romantic thievery and probable murder. Even Valentine joins the recitation of crimes, insisting the he has "killed a man, whose death I much repent" (4.1.27). Seeing that Valentine is "beautified / With goodly shape" and by his own report a "linguist" (56-58), the outlaws choose Valentine to be their captain. They have their standards. We might refer to this new location as an "in-between" space, not quite in any city but nearby, a true border experience, which helps justify the unruly appearance of outlaws. Mantua emerges as the play's last meaningful location. In this place, we might argue, Valentine comes of age, gaining a new possibility in his life, countering expulsion from Milan.

Silvia seeks to escape Milan, Valentine having been banished. She determines to go to Mantua, as she tells Sir Eglamour in their secret meeting: "I would to Valentine, / To Mantua, where I hear he makes abode" (4.3.22-23). Because the trip would be dangerous, Silvia desires Eglamour's company, and he agrees to travel with her. The "justice" of her fleeing hence, she explains, will "keep me from a most unholy match" (30). Thus Silvia exiles herself to this remote and slightly exotic place. Eglamour assures her, "the forest is not three leagues off" (5.1.11); and so they set out, only to be captured in act 5, scene 3, as Eglamour scampers away, and the outlaws take hold of Silvia. Her father, the Duke of Milan, meanwhile, realizes that she has fled and instructs Proteus, "mount you presently and meet with me / Upon the rising of the mountain foot / That leads toward Mantua, whither they are fled" (5.2.48-50). All roads now lead to Mantua.

The play's final scene takes place in these woods outside Mantua; and it begins with Valentine's "hymn" in praise of this location, "this shadowy desert, unfrequented woods" (5.4.2). "Unfrequented" turns out not to be quite the right word, as suddenly we hear the outlaws shouting; and then Proteus, Silvia, and Julia (still disguised) enter, as Valentine steps aside. Mantua becomes a destination, as Milan had been earlier; and Shakespeare wraps up the narrative in the curious assault on Silvia by Proteus, her rescue by Valentine, and Valentine's willingness to surrender her to Proteus. We might want to call this ending "problematic" Eventually all the characters achieve some kind of reconciliation; and Valentine closes on a sunny note: "One feast, one house, one mutual happiness" (174). Whether we in the audience or even some of the characters in the fiction feel quite this way reflects the troubling quality of this final scene. Will all the characters go back to Milan with the Duke, or will some press on to Verona? The play does not say. But for the moment, Valentine has become a "gentleman" of Mantua, the place that serves as the point of reunion and reconciliation, completing, however imperfectly, the comic direction of the play. Mantua's shadowy desert, unruly location, outlaws, and space on the border all contribute to helping solve problems. And Shakespeare makes clear to us that this action takes place in Mantua--no reticence or imprecision here.

The playwright readily refers to location in several of the early comedies, such as Much Ado About Nothing, which has nine references to Messina, beginning with the opening speech of the play by Leonato: "I learn in this letter that Don Pedro of Aragon comes this night to Messing' (1.1.1-2). These regular references to Messina in every act of the play created difficulties for the Royal Shakespeare Company's recent production, in which the director had decided to situate the play in 1950s pre-Castro Cuba. Alas, the characters in Much Ado seem to enjoy referring to being "here in Messina" In The Taming of the Shrew, we can never doubt that the play takes place in Padua. I am, however, particularly interested in its references to Verona.

Petruchio's first word in Shrew is "Verona": "Verona, for a while I take my leave / To see my friends in Padua" (1.2.1-2). We cannot doubt where he came from and where he now resides. He seems proud to claim his former city. In that most Veronese play, Romeo and Juliet, we possibly learn of Petruchio's background in the Capulet feast scene. Juliet asks the Nurse, "What's he that now is going out of door?" (1.5.131). And the Nurse replies, "Marry, that, I think, be young Petruccio" (132). Whatever the precise dates of composition, Petruchio lingers in Shakespeare's mind in Romeo and Juliet, this one who has arrived "to wive it wealthily in Padua" (1.2.74).

Shakespeare refers to Verona five times in Shrew, more than in Two Gentlemen, which has the curious distinction of having the fewest references to the city in any play that has some connection to Verona. Petruchio has come first to see his friend Hortensio, who greets him and Grumio: "My old friend Grumio, and my good friend Petruchio! How do you all at Verona?" (1.2.20-22). In Two Gentlemen, instead, we hear Valentine ask the newly arrived Proteus, presumably from Verona, "Now tell me, how do all from whence you came?" (2.4.120). A bit later, Hortensio asks further, "what happy gale / Blows you to Padua here from old Verona?" (47-48). Soon we learn that Petruchio is willing to assume the task of taming Kate and offering her marriage, to the delight of Hortensio and Gremio, who have interest instead in Bianca. Gremio greets Petruchio, "What countryman?" (187); and Petruchio responds, "Born in Verona, old Antonio's son" (188). At comparable moments in Two Gentlemen, however, characters remain reticent about their origins. When Petruchio becomes acquainted with Baptista, he proclaims, "I am a gentleman of Verona, sir" (2.1.47); later, "Petruchio is my name, Antonio's son, / A man well known throughout all Italy" (68-69). Baptista admits that he knew Petruchio's father well. And Baptista asks Tranio, impersonating Lucentio, "of whence, I pray?" (102); he answers, "Of Pisa, sir, son to Vincentio" (103). As a matter of routine, characters in Shrew readily identify themselves in terms of the cities from which they hail, demonstrating again Shakespeare's unusual reluctance to do this in Two Gentlemen.

"I am a gentleman of Verona." How refreshing to hear Petruchio assert this fact, as if proud of his heritage. No one visiting Milan in Two Gentlemen makes such a claim or admission. I wonder, given Petruchio's statement and his being accompanied by Grumio, admittedly a servant, whether the title Two Gentlemen of Verona could suit Shrew? I suppose that no one wants to surrender the enticing title of Kate and Petruchio's play, which includes the only verbal (a gerund) in the title of any of Shakespeare's plays. But Francis Meres does not list Shrew among Shakespeare's early comedies, and we have only the Folio text. Could Meres' reference to "Gentlemen of Verona" actually refer to the play of Petruchio and Kate? Maybe we should entitle it The Taming of the Shrew: Two Gentlemen of Verona.

Assuming that this perspective remains plausible, if not attractive, what could we call this play, possibly not even located in Verona, that delineates the adventures of Valentine and Silvia, Proteus and Julia? Thomas Scheye has already been along this track in his article "Two Gentlemen of Milan." Although Scheye does not insist on renaming the play, the title of his essay would certainly be an accurate characterization of the principal location and action. Two Gentlemen of Milan has a nice ring to it. Then, one could focus on what the experience in Milan means to the various characters, who, excepting Silvia, have arrived in this city from somewhere. Scheye writes, "The search for identity will come to an end when Sir Valentine returns to his new home and marries Silvia. And so Milan will be the state where Valentine loses himself to find himself." (28) Of course, one needs also to account for the significance of Mantua. Scheye suggests that when Valentine in his conversation with the outlaws mentions that he is going "to Verona" he means that "he is headed home." (29)

I disagree with Scheye's statement, as I think "home" remains an elusive term in this play. Shakespeare uses the word "home" some nine times in the play, most often in the scenes presumably located in Verona. I think this underscores that we have no evidentiary reason to think that these scenes occur in Verona. The failure to do so emphasizes that "home" becomes a missing understanding in this play. One could argue that only Silvia seems to have a stable, reliable personality, perhaps in part because she firmly resides in an identifiable city, Milan. The lack of an identifiable home for the characters presumably living in Verona may reinforce their vulnerability and uncertainty when they move to Milan. One could even think of Valentine, Proteus, and Julia as "homeless" I do not mean, of course, to excuse or explain Proteus's behavior on this basis; but these characters do seem to lack an essential underpinning of identity, which they might have drawn from their original city. Despite William Carroll's contention, cited above, that Verona is the place of "origin and departure,' I think that we cannot be certain of either.

If we return to the question of whether titles matter, we can certainly assert that the play's title does not matter, obviously, to the characters in the fiction. Titles may have mattered only slightly to early audiences, if they had a means of being aware of them. Even today, we focus primarily on the content, not the title, even if the title suggests many possibilities. Certainly if we look at the titles of Shakespeare's history plays, at least as listed in the catalogue in the Folio, these tell us little--the tragedies do not function much better on this score. The titles matter in terms of constructing a catalogue of Shakespeare's plays and in determining a canon: we have to have a means of referring to the plays. Something like The Comedy of Errors, or All's Well That Ends Well, on the other hand, becomes an imaginative title, rich with implications. We can ruminate about all kinds of titles of fictional or nonfictional works and decide which ones resonate with meaning. For example, William Faulkner's first title for his magnificent The Sound and the Fury was "Twilight"--certainly a plausible title but not so riveting as the final one taken from Macbeth. So, titles may matter greatly to literary critics but possibly less to readers, except as they puzzle about the connection of title to play. Of course, we can agree that Measure for Measure serves as a great title for that play and as a separate issue dispute the location in Vienna. The Two Gentlemen of Verona as a title sounds merely serviceable and presumably accurate. I argue, of course, that it is incorrect.

The Two Gentlemen of Verona is the story of a playwright who has not made up his mind. I think that Shakespeare included Verona in the title because he had not yet decided what to call the city from which the characters move. "Verona" in other words, became a convenient stopgap measure, something to which Shakespeare could return and tidy up and be more precise--hence another reason to avoid references to the city in the characters' conversation. To be more accurate, we might entitle the play The Two Gentlemen of "Verona" or The Two Gentlemen of N-Town. I do not mean that the choice of Verona in the title may be completely arbitrary, for obviously in Shakespeare's early writing career the nexus of Verona and Mantua penetrated his thinking. He seems in this early comedy to have decided what to make of Milan and Mantua, just not Verona. This comedy may in a sense be a kind of "dry run" for the later Romeo and Juliet, in which Verona will be clearly defined, as will Mantua.

If we insist on the Folio's title for the play, we could at least rename it: The Two Gentlemen FROM Verona. No one seems to be "of" Verona, but they might be "from" it. Coppelia Kahn, writing of Romeo and Juliet, refers to the process of "coming of age in Verona" (30) One could not write such an essay about this early Shakespearean comedy. "Verona" remains a place one leaves. Perhaps, just perhaps, Shakespeare reflects on his own personal experience of having left Stratford, not very long before, and not knowing quite what these places will come to mean to him. For at least two decades, Shakespeare will himself be from Stratford. Certainly, in later writing, he will delineate the importance of changing locations. One can readily think of, say, Othello, in which the movement from the well-established political and social culture of Venice to the military outpost of Cyprus resonates with profound significance, increasing the vulnerability of Othello and others.

Two Gentlemen needs a new title, different from the Folio one, which may or may not have been Shakespeare's title. If Clifford Leech is even half right in his theories of composition of this play, then we have all the more reason to think of it as, if not exactly unfinished in terms of narrative, at least uncorrected and unperfected.

University of Kansas


(1) Thomas L. Berger, "'Opening Titles Miscreate': Some Observations on the Titling of Shakespeare's 'Works'," in The Margins of the Text, ed. D. C. Greetham (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1997), 168.

(2) Ibid., 161.

(3) Berger imagines that Heminge and Condell assembled the texts "and then turned the job over to a professional folio 'editor,' probably Ben Jonson" (ibid., 169, n. 13). Berger rightly admits that he has no evidence to support this intriguing idea.

(4) Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard, Shakespeare in Love:A Screenplay (New York: Hyperion, 1998), 3.

(5) Ibid., 29.

(6) Ibid., 30.

(7) Ibid., 86.

(8) Berger, 162.

(9) All quotations from Shakespeare's plays come from The Complete Pelican Shakespeare, ed. Stephen Orgel and A. R. Braunmuller (New York: Penguin, 2002), and are cited parenthetically.

(10) E. K. Chambers, The Elizabethan Stage, 4 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon, 1923), 3:484.

(11) Ibid., 4:246.

(12) Cited in The Shakespere Allusion-Book: A Collection of Allusions to Shakspere from 1591 to 1700, ed. Clement Mansfield Ingleby, Lucy Toulmin Smith, Frederick James Furnivall, and John James Munro, 2 vols. (London: Oxford University Press, 1932), 2:58.

(13) Ibid., 2:59.

(14) Ibid., 2:114.

(15) Gary Taylor, "Shakespeare's Mediterranean Measure for Measure," in Shakespeare and the Mediterranean: The Selected Proceedings of the International Shakespeare Association World Congress, Valencia, 2001, ed. Thomas Clayton, Susan Broch, and Vicente Fores (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2004), 243-69.

(16) William Shakespeare, The Complete Pelican Shakespeare, ed. Alfred Harbage (Baltimore: Penguin, 1969).

(17) So specific that one can today even see Juliet's balcony in Verona! No locations in the city indicate Two Gentlemen, however.

(18) For a discussion of the sources, see Geoffrey Bullough, Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare, 8 vols. (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1957), 1:203-66.

(19) Giorgio Melchiori, "In fair Verona': Commedia Erudita into Romantic Comedy," in Shakespeare's Italy: Functions of Italian Locations in Renaissance Drama, ed. Michele Marrapodi, A. J. Hoenselaars, Marcello Cappuzzo, and L. Falzon Santucci (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1993), 101.

(20) For information about the frequency, consult Thomas L. Berger, William C. Bradford, and Sidney L. Sondergard, An Index of Characters in Early Modern English Drama: Printed Plays, 1500-1660, rev. ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998).

(21) Clifford Leech, introduction to The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Arden edition (London: Methuen, 1969), xv. Leech also produces another list of twenty-one puzzling references and incidents (xviii-xxi).

(22) Ibid.

(23) Ibid., xxx.

(24) William C. Carroll, introduction to The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Arden Shakespeare (London: Thompson/Arden, 2004), 76. In the introduction to this play in the Pelican edition, Mary Beth Rose exhibits no particular interest in the problem of location; she offers this gloss on the location of act 1, scene 1: "The location is most likely Verona, although this is not stated in the text."

(25) Ibid., 77.

(26) Ibid., 78.

(27) Ibid.

(28) Thomas E. Scheye, "Two Gentlemen of Milan," Shakespeare Studies 7 (1974): 21.

(29) Ibid., 19.

(30) Coppelia Kahn, "Coming of Age in Verona,' in The Woman's Part: Feminist Criticism of Shakespeare, ed. Carolyn Ruth Swift Lenz, Gayle Greene, and Carol Thomas Neely (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1980), 171-93.
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Author:Bergeron, David M.
Publication:Comparative Drama
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Dec 22, 2007
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