An Introduction to Shakespeare’s Comedies by Patrick Swinden (auth.)

By Patrick Swinden (auth.)

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Upon my life, I am a lord indeed. And he proceeds to witness the play - the play we also witness, but which includes him both as dreamer and as part of the collective dream. At the end of the play he might have said, with Bottom in A Midsummer Night's Dream, that he had Two Gentlemen of Verona 33 'dream'd a most rare dream'. Indeed he did say something like that in A Shrew. But in the play we have, nothing is made of it. Sly disappears, and the audience settles down to watch a lively knockabout that casts no doubt upon what is real and what is dramatic spectacle.

But this sort of thing doesn't bother us so much. We tend to worry more about the artificiality of the psychological complexions of the characters the sheer stupidity of Valentine, the absurdly abrupt reconciliation in the forest immediately after Proteus has tried to rape Silvia before Valentine's very eyes. Shakespeare's comic heroes are usually a bit on the weedy side, but we have difficulty in envisaging any of the others handing his mistress over to a neurotic rapist, however incompetent he is at the job.

But at last it comes as predicted. That was what the tricks were there for all the time. With the bulky exception of the history plays, Shakespeare's habit at this early stage in his career seems to have been to take a stock theatrical form and produce a polished variant of it. Not surprising when you remember the circumstances in which he had to work. In the early r 590s he didn't have any share in the company (the Lord Strange's Men) he wrote for. That had to wait until its transformation into the Lord Chamberlain's Company in 1594.

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