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Two Gentlemen of Verona
Biography of Shakespeare
Since William Shakespeare lived more than 400 years ago, and many records from that time are lost or never existed in the first place, we don't know everything about his life. For example, we know that he was baptized in Stratford-upon-Avon, 100 miles northwest of London, on April 26, 1564. But we don't know his exact birthdate, which must have been a few days earlier.
We do know that Shakespeare's life revolved around two locations: Stratford and London. He grew up, had a family, and bought property in Stratford, but he worked in London, the center of English theater. As an actor, a playwright, and a partner in a leading acting company, he became both prosperous and well-known. Even without knowing everything about his life, fans of Shakespeare have imagined and reimagined him according to their own tastes, just as we see with the 19th-century portrait of Shakespeare wooing his wife at the top of this page.
William Shakespeare was probably born on about April 23, 1564, the date that is traditionally given for his birth. He was John and Mary Shakespeare's oldest surviving child; their first two children, both girls, did not live beyond infancy. Growing up as the big brother of the family, William had three younger brothers, Gilbert, Richard, and Edmund, and two younger sisters: Anne, who died at seven, and Joan.
Their father, John Shakespeare, was a leatherworker who specialized in the soft white leather used for gloves and similar items. A prosperous businessman, he married Mary Arden, of the prominent Arden family. John rose through local offices in Stratford, becoming an alderman and eventually, when William was five, the town bailiff—much like a mayor. Not long after that, however, John Shakespeare stepped back from public life; we don't know why.
Shakespeare, as the son of a leading Stratford citizen, almost certainly attended Stratford's grammar school. Like all such schools, its curriculum consisted of an intense emphasis on the Latin classics, including memorization, writing, and acting classic Latin plays. Shakespeare most likely attended until about age 15.
For several years after Judith and Hamnet's arrival in 1585, nothing is known for certain of Shakespeare's activities: how he earned a living, when he moved from Stratford, or how he got his start in the theater.
Following this gap in the record, the first definite mention of Shakespeare is in 1592 as an established London actor and playwright, mocked by a contemporary as a "Shake-scene." The same writer alludes to one of Shakespeare's earliest history plays, Henry VI, Part 3, which must already have been performed. The next year, in 1593, Shakespeare published a long poem, Venus and Adonis. The first quarto editions of his early plays appeared in 1594. For more than two decades, Shakespeare had multiple roles in the London theater as an actor, playwright, and, in time, a business partner in a major acting company, the Lord Chamberlain's Men (renamed the King's Men in 1603). Over the years, he became steadily more famous in the London theater world; his name, which was not even listed on the first quartos of his plays, became a regular feature—clearly a selling point—on later title pages.
Shakespeare prospered financially from his partnership in the Lord Chamberlain's Men (later the King's Men), as well as from his writing and acting. He invested much of his wealth in real-estate purchases in Stratford and bought the second-largest house in town, New Place, in 1597.
Among the last plays that Shakespeare worked on was The Two Noble Kinsmen, which he wrote with a frequent collaborator, John Fletcher, most likely in 1613. He died on April 23, 1616—the traditional date of his birthday, though his precise birthdate is unknown. We also do not know the cause of his death. His brother-in-law had died a week earlier, which could imply infectious disease, but Shakespeare's health may have had a longer decline.
The memorial bust of Shakespeare at Holy Trinity Church in Stratford is considered one of two authentic likenesses, because it was approved by people who knew him. (The bust in the Folger's Paster Reading Room, shown at left, is a copy of this statue.) The other such likeness is the engraving by Martin Droeshout in the 1623 First Folio edition of Shakespeare's plays, produced seven years after his death by his friends and colleagues from the King's Men.
DUKE OF MILAN, father to Silvia VALENTINE, one of the two gentlemen PROTEUS, one of the two gentlemen ANTONIO, father to Proteus THURIO, a foolish rival to Valentine EGLAMOUR, agent for Silvia in her escape SPEED, a clownish servant to Valentine LAUNCE, the like to Proteus PANTHINO, servant to Antonio HOST, where Julia lodges in Milan OUTLAWS, with Valentine
JULIA, a lady of Verona, beloved of Proteus SILVIA, beloved of Valentine LUCETTA, waiting-woman to Julia
SCENE: Verona; Milan; the frontiers of Mantua
SCENE I. Verona. An open place
[Enter VALENTINE and PROTEUS.]
VALENTINE. Cease to persuade, my loving Proteus: Home-keeping youth have ever homely wits. Were't not affection chains thy tender days To the sweet glances of thy honour'd love, I rather would entreat thy company To see the wonders of the world abroad, Than, living dully sluggardiz'd at home, Wear out thy youth with shapeless idleness. But since thou lov'st, love still, and thrive therein, Even as I would, when I to love begin.
PROTEUS. Wilt thou be gone? Sweet Valentine, adieu! Think on thy Proteus, when thou haply seest Some rare noteworthy object in thy travel: Wish me partaker in thy happiness When thou dost meet good hap; and in thy danger, If ever danger do environ thee, Commend thy grievance to my holy prayers, For I will be thy headsman, Valentine.
VALENTINE. And on a love-book pray for my success?
PROTEUS. Upon some book I love I'll pray for thee.
VALENTINE. That's on some shallow story of deep love, How young Leander cross'd the Hellespont.
PROTEUS. That's a deep story of a deeper love; For he was more than over shoes in love.
VALENTINE. 'Tis true; for you are over boots in love, And yet you never swum the Hellespont.
PROTEUS. Over the boots? Nay, give me not the boots.
VALENTINE. No, I will not, for it boots thee not.
VALENTINE. To be in love, where scorn is bought with groans; Coy looks with heart-sore sighs; one fading moment's mirth With twenty watchful, weary, tedious nights: If haply won, perhaps a hapless gain; If lost, why then a grievous labour won: However, but a folly bought with wit, Or else a wit by folly vanquished.
PROTEUS. So, by your circumstance, you call me fool.
VALENTINE. So, by your circumstance, I fear you'll prove.
PROTEUS. 'Tis love you cavil at: I am not Love.
VALENTINE. Love is your master, for he masters you; And he that is so yoked by a fool, Methinks, should not be chronicled for wise.
PROTEUS. Yet writers say, as in the sweetest bud The eating canker dwells, so eating love Inhabits in the finest wits of all.
VALENTINE. And writers say, as the most forward bud Is eaten by the canker ere it blow, Even so by love the young and tender wit Is turned to folly; blasting in the bud, Losing his verdure even in the prime, And all the fair effects of future hopes. But wherefore waste I time to counsel the That art a votary to fond desire? Once more adieu! my father at the road Expects my coming, there to see me shipp'd.
PROTEUS. And thither will I bring thee, Valentine.
VALENTINE. Sweet Proteus, no; now let us take our leave. To Milan let me hear from thee by letters Of thy success in love, and what news else Betideth here in absence of thy friend; And I likewise will visit thee with mine.
PROTEUS. All happiness bechance to thee in Milan!
VALENTINE. As much to you at home! and so farewell!
PROTEUS. He after honour hunts, I after love; He leaves his friends to dignify them more: I leave myself, my friends, and all for love. Thou, Julia, thou hast metamorphos'd me;-- Made me neglect my studies, lose my time, War with good counsel, set the world at nought; Made wit with musing weak, heart sick with thought.
SPEED. Sir Proteus, save you! Saw you my master?
PROTEUS. But now he parted hence to embark for Milan.
SPEED. Twenty to one then he is shipp'd already, And I have play'd the sheep in losing him.
PROTEUS. Indeed a sheep doth very often stray, An if the shepherd be a while away.
SPEED. You conclude that my master is a shepherd then, and I a sheep?
PROTEUS. I do.
SPEED. Why then, my horns are his horns, whether I wake or sleep.
PROTEUS. A silly answer, and fitting well a sheep.
SPEED. This proves me still a sheep.
PROTEUS. True; and thy master a shepherd.
SPEED. Nay, that I can deny by a circumstance.
PROTEUS. It shall go hard but I'll prove it by another.
SPEED. The shepherd seeks the sheep, and not the sheep the shepherd; but I seek my master, and my master seeks not me; therefore, I am no sheep.
PROTEUS. The sheep for fodder follow the shepherd; the shepherd for food follows not the sheep: thou for wages followest thy master; thy master for wages follows not thee. Therefore, thou art a sheep.
SPEED. Such another proof will make me cry 'baa.'
PROTEUS. But, dost thou hear? gavest thou my letter to Julia?
SPEED. Ay, sir; I, a lost mutton, gave your letter to her, a laced mutton; and she, a laced mutton, gave me, a lost mutton, nothing for my labour.
PROTEUS. Here's too small a pasture for such store of muttons.
SPEED. If the ground be overcharged, you were best stick her.
PROTEUS. Nay, in that you are astray: 'twere best pound you.
SPEED. Nay, sir, less than a pound shall serve me for carrying your letter.
PROTEUS. You mistake; I mean the pound,--a pinfold.
SPEED. From a pound to a pin? fold it over and over, 'Tis threefold too little for carrying a letter to your lover.
PROTEUS. But what said she? [SPEED nods.] Did she nod?
PROTEUS. Nod, ay? Why, that's noddy.
SPEED. You mistook, sir; I say she did nod; and you ask me if she did nod; and I say, Ay.
PROTEUS. And that set together is--noddy.
SPEED. Now you have taken the pains to set it together, take it for your pains.
PROTEUS. No, no; you shall have it for bearing the letter.
SPEED. Well, I perceive I must be fain to bear with you.
PROTEUS. Why, sir, how do you bear with me?
SPEED. Marry, sir, the letter, very orderly; having nothing but the word 'noddy' for my pains.
PROTEUS. Beshrew me, but you have a quick wit.
SPEED. And yet it cannot overtake your slow purse.
PROTEUS. Come, come; open the matter; in brief: what said she?
SPEED. Open your purse, that the money and the matter may be both at once delivered.
PROTEUS. Well, sir, here is for your pains [giving him money]. What said she?
SPEED. Truly, sir, I think you'll hardly win her.
PROTEUS. Why, couldst thou perceive so much from her?
SPEED. Sir, I could perceive nothing at all from her; no, not so much as a ducat for delivering your letter; and being so hard to me that brought your mind, I fear she'll prove as hard to you in telling your mind. Give her no token but stones, for she's as hard as steel.
PROTEUS. What! said she nothing?