The Two Gentlemen of Verona | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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The Two Gentlemen of Verona | Act 3, Scene 1 | Summary

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Summary

Proteus visits the Duke and informs him of Valentine's plan to elope with Sylvia by climbing up to her bedroom window. Thanking Proteus for the information, the Duke promises not to reveal its source. As Proteus exits the stage, Valentine enters, and the Duke traps him in a seemingly friendly conversation about a woman the Duke is trying to court. Valentine lets down his guard and reveals how the Duke might get into the woman's room, in which she is locked at night. The Duke then snatches Valentine's cloak, revealing a rope ladder and a love poem addressed to Sylvia. These items, in the enraged Duke's view, constitute enough evidence to banish Valentine on the spot. The Duke exits, leaving Valentine to mourn his fate.

News, it seems, travels fast in Milan. While Valentine is standing there lamenting, Proteus and Lance rush in, having already heard of Valentine's banishment. The devious Proteus offers to act as a go-between, bringing Valentine's letters to Sylvia and vice versa. Valentine asks Lance to send Speed to the north gate of town, where the banished man will make his departure from Milan. He and Proteus head for the gate together, discussing the thwarted love affair as they go.

Alone on stage, Lance declares he, too, is in love with a milkmaid, whose "qualities" he has committed to writing. Speed, as if by coincidence, joins him and reads the list aloud, with Lance offering a running commentary on each item. Good qualities include her skill in knitting, sewing, and ale brewing; bad ones include sour breath, toothlessness, and a tendency to curse and scold. When the list runs out, Lance remembers to tell Speed he is expected at the north gate. Speed, who will likely be punished for his tardiness, grows angry with Lance for not passing the news along sooner. Lance, however, gloats that Speed's nosiness has gotten him into trouble.

Analysis

This scene, the play's longest, serves to precipitate the crisis that will drive the characters' actions in the remaining scenes. Valentine in his earnestness allows the Duke to entrap him into revealing the rope ladder he intends to use to get to Sylvia's room and leave the palace with her. The Duke, used to getting his way and being the highest official of the city, has no patience for fact or explanation. Proteus again shows his hypocrisy and deceit, making him more despicable as he continues to befriend Valentine.

With Valentine banished and effectively relegated to the play's sidelines until Act 5, Scene 4, the stage is freed up for the portrayal of the Sylvia/Proteus/Julia love triangle. Moreover, with Valentine out of the picture and Julia not yet arrived, Proteus can drift toward villainy without having to face the two people who care most about him: his best friend and his (former) sweetheart. Without their physical presence to remind him of his obligations, Proteus's sense of remorse will activate only fleetingly, in Act 4, Scene 2. Once out of sight, Valentine and Julia are quickly out of mind.

The silly dialogue between Speed and Lance also deserves mention, not simply because it softens the blow of Valentine's banishment and Proteus's betrayal but also because it shows some major differences between the servants and their masters. Lance, unlike the Veronese gentlemen, is interested in his milkmaid not because of her beauty and elegance but because she has the practical skills and monetary savings to set up a household. His view of relationships is more practical, though surely no more enlightened, than the attitude of the two gentlemen, who seem preoccupied with their mistress's physical beauty. Further he shows no indication whatsoever of disloyalty to her, never noticing or wishing for someone more traditionally appealing.

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