Act Three, Scene One of The Two Gentlemen of Verona begins in the court of Milan where we find Proteus throwing his “friend” Valentine under the anachronistic bus:
My gracious lord, that which I would discover
The law of friendship bids me to conceal;
But when I call to mind your gracious favors
Done to me, undeserving as I am,
My duty pricks me on to utter that
Which else no worldly good should draw from me.
Know, worthy prince, Sir Valentine, my friend,
This night intends to steal away your daughter:
Myself am one made privy to the plot.
I know you have determined to bestow her
On Thurio, whom your gentle daughter hates;
And should she thus be stol'n away from you,
It would be much vexation to your age.
Check out the big irony on lil’ Proteus: “law of friendship”… “your gracious favors // Done to me… My duty” (right, after less than a day, sooooo many favors) … “Thurio, whom your gentle daughter hates” (nothing like throwing all the competitors under the bus)… “vexation to your age” (just looking after you, OLD man). It’s a pretty masterful speech… wonderful if it weren’t so deceitful. The Duke is thankful–having suspected Valentine in the past, having “oftentimes… proposed to forbid // Sir Valentine her company and (the Duke’s) court” (III.i.2-27)–but he isn’t too worried since he “nightly lodge(s) her in an upper tower, // The key whereof (the Duke himself) have ever kept” (III.i.35-36).
Proteus tells the Duke of the “corded ladder” (III.i.40)
foreshadowing of Romeo and Juliet, anyone?
and tells the Duke that Valentine is on his way with said ladder, and that he can stop the elopement here. Proteus only asks that the Duke not tell Valentine that his friend betrayed him, as it is “love of (the Duke), not hate unto (his) friend” (III.i.46) that has made Proteus drop dime on his childhood buddy.
Proteus exits, Valentine enters, and the Duke stops him for a little chat, one filled with such a stratagem that one has to feel that the Duke and Proteus are cut from the same cloth: The Duke declares that he, too, is in love with a woman, and he needs Valentine to be his “tutor” (III.i.84) in love. How to woo, the Duke asks; “Win her with gifts, if she respect not words” (III.i.89), Valentine advises. But what if she’s locked away in a tower? “Why then a ladder, quaintly made of cords” (III.i.117), one that can be hid “under a cloak that is of any length” (III.i.130). When the Duke pulls open Valentine’s own cloak, the rope ladder is found, the plan is discovered, and the punishment comes quickly:
But if thou linger in my territories
Longer than swiftest expedition
Will give thee time to leave our royal court,
By heaven! my wrath shall far exceed the love
I ever bore my daughter or thyself.
Be gone! I will not hear thy vain excuse;
But, as thou lovest thy life, make speed from hence.
He is banished, and like (yet another foreshadowing of) Romeo, Valentine is lost without his love: “And why not death rather than living torment? // To die is to be banished from myself” (III.i.170-171). When Proteus reappears (now with Launce), he tells Valentine to flee, but to write to Silvia, and Proteus will “deliver (them) // Even in the milk-white bosom of (Valentine’s) love” (III.i.250). The only one on stage who doesn’t see Proteus for who he is Valentine, and soon Proteus escorts his (former) friend to the gates of the town. Alone on stage, even Launce admits to the audience, “I am but a fool, look you, and yet I have the wit to think my master is a kind of a knave” (III.i.261-262). Speed arrives and the two servants engage in some banter, ironically over Launce’s newly aroused love for a mysterious “milkmaid” (III.i.267), before Speed chases after his banished master.
Act Three, Scene Two finds Valentine gone, Thurio complaining to the Duke about Silvia’s “despis(ing Thurio) most” (III.ii.3) since the banishment, and Proteus–always helpful–volunteering to tutor Thurio in the wooing of Silvia. The plan is to poison Silvia’s thoughts of Valentine, “to slander Valentine // With falsehood, cowardice, and poor descent” (III.ii.31-32). When the Duke fears that Silvia will simply believe that all these things are “spoke in hate” (III.ii.34), Proteus says that it will not be the case if it “be spoken // By one who she esteemeth as his friend” (III.ii.36-37). Then, who better to deliver the slander than Proteus? Proteus even promises to talk up Thurio as he verbally beats down on Valentine.
Of course, the Duke and Thurio don’t know Proteus like we do…