The Two Gentlemen of Verona | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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The Two Gentlemen of Verona | Act 2, Scene 4 | Summary

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Summary

At the Duke's palace in Milan Valentine continues wooing Sylvia, who orders him about like a servant. Speed is present, too, but he says little. Valentine trades insults with his rival, the rich but dreary Thurio, whom he ridicules as a fool and a miser. Sylvia is amused by their quarrel, but the bickering dies down when the Duke arrives, claiming to have received a letter from Antonio. He asks about Antonio's son Proteus, whom Valentine praises as an honorable and accomplished man, "complete in feature and in mind / With all good grace to grace a gentleman." Impressed with Valentine's glowing report, the Duke reveals Proteus has already arrived in Milan. He urges Sylvia and Thurio to treat the newcomer kindly.

When Proteus comes onstage, he courteously greets Sylvia and pledges to become her servant as well. She and Thurio leave in response to a summons from the Duke. Valentine asks for news from Verona and makes a point of inquiring after Julia, only to have Proteus remind him, "My tales of love were wont to weary you." Things have changed, says Valentine, who has "done penance for contemning Love, / ... with bitter fasts, with penitential groans, / With nightly tears, and daily heartsore sighs." He once more confesses his love for Sylvia and reveals his plan to elope with her, for her father prefers a match with the rich Thurio.

After Valentine and Speed leave the stage, Proteus vents his jealousy in a soliloquy. "The remembrance of my former love," he muses, "is by a newer object quite forgotten." Julia is now out of the picture, as Proteus reveals his "love is thawed ... like a waxen image 'gainst a fire." Sylvia is the new object of Proteus's affections. "Dazzled" by her beauty, he admits he is no longer loyal to his old friend: if he can win Sylvia away from Valentine, he will.

Analysis

There's a lot going on in this scene, the second longest in the play. For one thing the scene helps establish Valentine's fondness and admiration for Proteus: he may have given his friend a hard time about being in love with Julia, but Valentine now has no reservations about praising Proteus as "complete in feature and in mind, / With all good grace to grace a gentleman." Proteus, he tells the Duke, has all the experience and sound judgment of old age despite his youthful appearance. This is an interesting—and frankly dishonest—way to praise a friend who has only now left his father's estate for the first time. Like a character reference in a high-stakes job interview, Valentine is staking a part of his reputation on Proteus's ability to back up his claims. A bigger miscalculation, however, is his decision to trust Proteus with the details of his elopement plot.

The magnitude of Valentine's trust makes Proteus's betrayal all the more disappointing. Proteus's disloyalty does not, however, make him a villain, much as some of his individual actions might deserve that label. Rather, the man who soliloquizes about his sudden love for Sylvia and his lack of empathy toward Valentine is an immature youth, too easily swayed by his own changing emotions—the exact opposite of the old soul Valentine makes him out to be. Proteus is frustratingly conscious of his feelings and their potential to cause problems: he labels his infatuation with Sylvia a "false transgression" and complains of loving her "too too much." But instead of resolving to master these emotions, Proteus makes only a weak attempt to "check [his] erring love" before giving in to temptation.

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