A Life of William Shakespeare

By Joseph Quincy Adams | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XII
LABORS FOR THE CHAMBERLAIN'S MEN, 1594-1598

SHAKESPEARE'S task now was to provide the Chamberlain's Company with an adequate supply of plays, both through frequent revision of old manuscripts, and through the annual composition of two or more original pieces. Upon joining the troupe he was probably able to furnish the actors at once with a new comedy, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, on which, it seems, he had been working during his long period of enforced leisure. The play, with its Italian setting, gives unmistakable evidence of that wide reading in the Renaissance literature of the Continent which occupied much of his time from 1592 to 1594. Not only are various elements of the plot to be found in French and Italian story-tellers, but the main theme, of Proteus and Julia, was derived from the popular Spanish romance of Diana, by Montemayor. Since there was no printed English translation of this voluminous romance, the natural inference is that Shakespeare read it in the original, or in the French translation of 1578.1 The influence of Lyly Euphues, too, popular in fashionable circles, and of his "Court comedies," well- approved by the Queen, is unmistakable. Indeed, the play seems to have been devised with a courtly audience distinctly in mind. This may explain why in style and in spirit it is closely akin to Love's Labour's Lost, written late

____________________
1
Shakespeare's ability to read French cannot be questioned, and we have evidence, though less certain, that he had some command of Spanish. The English translation by Young was not printed until 1598, and then privately. There is, of course, a possibility that Shakespeare had the privilege of reading Young's manuscript; but the bulkiness of the work would prevent many transcripts, and the chance of his seeing a copy was not great.

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