The Two Gentlemen of Verona | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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The Two Gentlemen of Verona | Act 1, Scene 1 | Summary

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Summary

In a public square in Verona, two young Veronese gentlemen—friends since childhood—are saying goodbye to one another. Valentine is leaving for Milan, where he will become an attendant of the Duke. Proteus is staying in Verona, where he hopes to woo the lady Julia. Valentine gently mocks Proteus for his lovesickness but wishes him luck in his quest. He asks Proteus to "let me hear from thee by letters" and promises to do the same. Reflecting on his love for Julia, Proteus muses his feelings have "made me neglect my studies, lose my time, / war with good counsel" and made him heartsick.

After Valentine has departed, his servant Speed rushes onstage and asks Proteus whether he has seen Valentine. After a witty exchange in which Speed is compared to a sheep and Valentine to a shepherd, Proteus points the servant in the right direction. First, however, Proteus asks whether Speed has delivered a love letter to Julia, as promised. The letter was delivered, Speed says, but Julia seemed "as hard as steel"—totally unreceptive to Proteus's message of love. In fact she didn't give Speed a tip for delivering the letter. Proteus blames himself for sending such an important message via such a "worthless" courier.

Analysis

Valentine and Proteus may be well educated and well bred, but as later scenes will reveal they are both somewhat lacking in self-knowledge, even though Proteus describes the difference between Valentine and himself as "He after honor hunts, I after love." Proteus believes his love for Julia has "metamorphosed" him, but he fails to consider whether the transformation will last, especially if his wooing is successful. Indeed his remark foreshadows his behavior later in the play, when he abandons any sense of honor in pursuit of love. Valentine, meanwhile, smugly regards himself as immune to such "metamorphoses" and gives his friend a hard time for being so susceptible to the "folly" of love. Pride, as the old proverb goes, cometh before a fall; Valentine's fall will come in Act 2 when he meets and falls in love with the Milanese lady Sylvia.

Speed, in contrast, knows more than his goofy exterior would suggest. Unlike the wealthier characters in the play, who live on a higher plane, preoccupied with love, honor, and revenge, Speed is a pragmatic creature whose concerns seldom extend beyond his paycheck and his next meal. These interests become evident when he asks Proteus for a tip before delivering his report from Julia: "Open your purse, that the money and the matter may be both at once delivered." Like other Shakespearean clown figures (for example, the Fool in King Lear), however, Speed delivers some astute observations along with his witty one-liners. But his guess about Julia's intentions—that she will not be "won" by Proteus—is uncharacteristically off base.

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