The Two Gentlemen of Verona by William Shakespeare

It would be presumptuous of me to review a play by The Bard that has withstood the test of time, so I will just mention a few points that may help a reader trying to decide which Shakespearean drama to tackle. This one would be a good candidate.

I was tired of the formulaic”mysteries” (which are seldom mysterious) that populate the best-seller or recommended reading lists these days, so I picked up my copy of the complete works of Shakespeare to find something different. Actually, I picked up my wife’s copy, which was a mistake. I started reading this play and realized that I needed the footnotes to get all the wordplay, so I switched to mine. My copy, a different edition, explains all the puns and allusions. You have to read something like this to appreciate what a genius Shakespeare was. The play is billed as a drama, but the repartee between the characters, especially the sassy servants backtalking to their masters, makes this one equally legitimate as a comedy.

To be sure, there are things in it that are unacceptable to modern audiences. He uses the terms Jew, Hebrew, and Ethiope as vicious insults, for example. Still, that’s merely reflective of the absolute certainty of the age that white British or at least European Christians, and by that I mean males, were clearly superior to all other races and all infidels. Kind of like the Taliban does today, which makes them caught up to 16th Century moral and ethical values, I suppose. Oops! I don’t do politics. Disregard that last remark. Another example would be how quickly love strikes — and how quickly it flees.

Another fun fact is the author’s continuity problems. For example, when one of the main characters arrives in Milan he is greeted by his host with, “Welcome to Padua.” That would make a good trivia question or crossword clue: “When Proteus arrives in Milan, his host welcomes him to what city? 5 letters.” Milan? Wrong! In fact he does it a second time, referring to Milan as Verona.

It really helps if you understand Elizabethan English well enough to follow all the wordplay, but even if you don’t, you can still enjoy the slightly farcical play we would today call a dramedy. Boy, that guy can write!