The Two Gentlemen of Verona is a comedy with a controversial ending, built around the interruption of male friendship by heterosexual love and the confusion sparked by a cross-dressed heroine. The play probes the early modern discourse of idealised male friendship, explores metamorphosis, constancy and the boundaries of gender identity – and features the only animal role in Shakespeare, the scapegrace dog Crab.
The play was written no later than 1594. It first appears in print in the 1623 First Folio, on which this text is based – no quarto edition is known to have existed.
In his introduction to the current edition, editor William C. Carroll writes ‘Like all of Shakespeare’s plays, Two Gentlemen has attracted the attention, if not the unfailing admiration, of the greatest editors and actors of the past four centuries and its stage history proves surprisingly rich. However, many readers and audiences have judged Two Gentlemen, as one of Shakespeare’s earliest plays, to be aesthetically inferior to most of his others: ‘early’ comes to connote ‘immature’, hence relatively incompetent, in contrast to a play written later, which is more ‘mature’ (how could it not be?) and (almost by definition) therefore more successful . . I aim to break this critical cycle, not by mounting a new (and doomed) argument about the play’s aesthetic perfections, but by enlisting and, if possible, augmenting some stimulating recent critical and theoretical work on the early modern period and also related texts to cast light on Shakespeare’s dramatic strategies in Two Gentlemen . . . I hope that this edition, in exploring the early modern discourse of male friendship, will show how Shakespeare’s use of the tradition is more complicated and indeed more searching than what has sometimes been seen as a rather immature, incompetent appropriation of it.’