The Two Gentlemen of Verona | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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The Two Gentlemen of Verona | Act 2, Scene 6 | Summary



Back at the Duke's palace Proteus continues to mull over his dilemma. He wants to court "fair Sylvia," but to do so means breaking his oath of fidelity to Julia and violating his bond of friendship with Valentine. Gradually he rationalizes his decision to break with Julia and pursue Sylvia instead: Julia is a mere "star," but Sylvia is a "celestial sun." He plots to reveal Valentine's elopement scheme, thus getting his rival banished from court and ingratiating himself with the Duke in the process. If Proteus's plan succeeds, only the "blunt," "dull" Thurio will stand between him and Sylvia.


In this scene Proteus really begins to resemble his namesake, the shape-shifting Greek sea god known for trickery. As he debates the merits and drawbacks of remaining faithful to Julia, his thoughts and attitudes seem to shift in real time. Early in the speech Proteus is preoccupied with the ethical dimension of his dilemma, recognizing he will be "forsworn" (violating an oath) if he leaves Julia, woos Sylvia, and rats out Valentine to the Duke. Ultimately, however, self-interest trumps considerations of loyalty, friendship, and keeping of oaths: "I to myself," Proteus declares, "am dearer than a friend." This remark, however, proves a counterproductive way of thinking, as Sylvia is disgusted—not flattered—by Proteus's willingness to sacrifice honor in her pursuit. His faithlessness stands in contrast to the strong loyalties of those around him, including Sylvia.

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