I Love You, You’re (im)Perfect… Now Change

The Two Gentlemen of Verona has had a fairly varied production history, but mostly modern.  While we know the play existed before 1598 (as it appeared on a list of Shakespearean plays in that year in Palladis Tamia by Francis Meres, a survey of the works of recent English poets), the text of the play, however, did not appear during Shakespeare’s lifetime, published for the first time as part the First Folio in 1623.  Until this point, in fact even until the late eighteenth century, there is no record of any performance of the play.

The first known performance of the play was at the Royal Opera House in the Covent Garden in 1784 (there was a performance in 1762, but it was of a version rewritten by Benjamin Victor); it was not a theatrical success, closing after only one night (even though it had been scheduled for a multi-week run).

According to Shakespeare critic and Oxford Shakespeare editor Stanley Wells, the play “has succeeded best when subjected to adaptation, increasing its musical content, adjusting the emphasis of the last scene so as to reduce the shock of Valentine’s donation of Silvia to Proteus, and updating the setting.”

A quick view of the production history seems to bear this out:

  • 1956–Old Vic Theater directed by Michael Langham: 19th century Italy
  • 1960–Royal Shakespeare Theatre directed by Peter Hall: late medieval Italy
  • 1971–New York Shakespeare Festival: Two Gentlemen of Verona, the musical by Galt MacDermot, John Guare and Mel Shapiro
  • 1981–Royal Shakespeare Theatre directed by John Barton: presentational, with actors sitting on-stage throughout
  • 1984–Stratford Shakespeare Festival directed by Leon Rubin: actors wore modern clothes with contemporary music
  • 1991–Royal Shakespeare Company directed by David Thacker: onstage band playing pop standards from 1930s
  • 1996–Globe Theatre directed by Jack Shepherd: modern dress
  • 1998–Swan Theatre directed by Edward Hall: set in a dirty modern city
  • 2001–Arena Stage directed by Douglas Wager: 1950s setting with early rock music
  • 2004–Royal Shakespeare Company (touring production) directed by Fiona Buffini: set in 1930s London (standing in for Verona) and New York (Milan)
  • 2004–Greenwich Playhouse: Two Gentlemen of Verona, gay adaptation by Stuart Draper
  • 2009–Guthrie Theater directed by Joe Dowling: produced as 1955 television production with cameras and monitors on stage and commercials of the period

So if you have to change the play to produce it, why produce it?  With the rise of dedicated Shakespeare theater troupes (which have a need to produce all the plays in the Canon), as well as the existence established companies desiring to mount Shakespeare productions (but needing to do something beyond the “usual suspects” of popular plays [for example, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Romeo and Juliet, Henry V, As You Like It, Twelfth Night, Hamlet, Macbeth, etc]), there has arisen a need for atypical Shakespeare plays to produce.

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