The Two Gentlemen of Verona | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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

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Summary

Outside the Duke's palace in Milan, Proteus is "helping" Thurio woo Sylvia, while in fact still attempting to win her for himself. Sylvia, Proteus complains, is too pure hearted to be courted by a dishonorable man like himself, "false to Valentine / And now ... unjust to Thurio." In fact Proteus mentions she has confronted him for deceiving Valentine and abandoning Julia.

Thurio arrives, leading a group of musicians to play beneath Sylvia's bedroom window. Julia, now disguised as the page Sebastian, enters the stage to one side, accompanied by the host of a Milanese inn. She arrives in time to hear Proteus sing a lyrical love song in Sylvia's honor, and the host wonders why the music is not to Sebastian's liking.

Thurio and the musicians exit just as Sylvia appears on her balcony. Proteus, still below, calls up to her and professes his love, but Sylvia rebukes him for his disloyalty both to Valentine and to his previous mistress. Proteus answers his former love is dead, and it is rumored Valentine has died as well. Sylvia sees through both these self-serving claims—the first of which is certainly a lie, since Julia is standing right there in disguise. As they make their way offstage, Julia learns from the host where Proteus is staying in Milan.

Analysis

This busy, cross-cutting scene serves a variety of dramatic purposes. It reintroduces Julia and acquaints her with Proteus's disloyalty, paving the way for their eventual confrontation in the final scene. It also shows how readily Thurio has taken Proteus's advice and how little he suspects Proteus of having an ulterior motive. Hire a band, Proteus suggests, and Thurio cheerfully hires a band. Send her some poems, Proteus urges, and Thurio happily commissions a set of Sylvia-themed love lyrics. In fact, "Who Is Sylvia" remains one of Shakespeare's best-known poems and has been set to music by numerous composers throughout the centuries since its first appearance.

At the beginning of the scene Proteus even slips up and confesses his frustrated love for Sylvia: "love / Will creep in service where it cannot go." These words raise Thurio's suspicions for just a moment, but Proteus easily recovers by professing his allegiance to Thurio. Vain, gullible, and overconfident, Thurio is no match for his fast-thinking rival.

Perhaps more important, this scene showcases the vast emotional rift between Proteus and Sylvia, who rightly blames him for getting Valentine banished. In his attempts to win Sylvia's love, Proteus becomes like the captain of a foundering vessel, throwing cargo overboard to keep himself afloat a little longer. The first item to go was his loyalty (when he betrayed Valentine). Now as he spins lies about the deaths of Julia and Valentine he jettisons his honesty and dignity as well. None of this behavior is remotely attractive to the high-minded Sylvia, "too fair, too true, too holy" to be won over with cheap tricks or swayed from her devotion to the more admirable and worthy Valentine.

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