Act Two of The Two Gentlemen of Verona–the longest in the play at almost twice the length of Act One–begins not in Verona, but in Milan, where Valentine has arrived to work in the royal court of the Duke (NOT the emperor).
what, you ask, Valentine in love? … yep… not that you’re surprised, I’m sure…
The first scene of the act opens with Valentine and Speed engaged in the same kind of quick-witted repartee as we witnessed Speed and Proteus in back in Act One, Scene One, with the subject of the banter much the same: the master’s folly in love.
When Valentine asks his servant how he knows the master is in love, Speed lists the ways:
you have learned, like Sir Proteus, to wreathe your arms, like a malcontent; to relish a love-song, like a robin-redbreast; to walk alone, like one that had the pestilence; to sigh, like a school-boy that had lost his A B C; to weep, like a young wench that had buried her grandam; to fast, like one that takes diet; to watch like one that fears robbing; to speak puling, like a beggar at Hallowmas.
While Speed sees Valentine as quite pathetic, he has no sympathy for his master, nor does he give his master any respite in the attacks on both man and muse:
I have loved her ever since I saw her; and still I see her beautiful.
If you love her, you cannot see her.
Because Love is blind. O, that you had mine eyes; or your own eyes had the lights they were wont to have when you chid at Sir Proteus for going ungartered!
What should I see then?
Your own present folly and her passing deformity: for he, being in love, could not see to garter his hose, and you, being in love, cannot see to put on your hose.
Speed even goes so far as to tell his master that he has become worse than Proteus, whom Valentine had disparaged earlier in the play. Valentine is so far gone, that he has agreed to write for his love Silvia “some (poetic) lines to one she loves” (II.i.84-85), playing a kind of proto-Cyrano, only gender-switched and writing so that his benefactor can love another man.
When Valentine’s love arrives, Speed gives us a kind of running color commentary on the proceedings in asides. And what proceedings! Silvia toys with Valentine and his poetic lines, which she calls “clerkly done… (and) quaintly writ” (II.i.104 and 118), finally telling him to write another, “and when it’s writ, for (her) sake (he should) read it over, // And if it please(s him)… take it for (his) labor” (II.i.125-126, 128). She leaves with him n a state of lustful confusion. Speed, however, sees through the ruse: “That my master, being scribe, to himself should write the letter” (II.i.135). She is having Valentine write love letters to her love, to himself… though he just doesn’t know it.
The very short Act Two, Scene Two, takes us back to Verona, to the tearful goodbye between Proteus (leaving for Milan) and his love Julia, who gives her love a “remembrance,” a ring (II.ii.5 and stage direction). Proteus gives her a ring as well, and swears his “true constancy” (II.ii.8)…
and don’t you just have a bad feeling about that…
and worse feelings about that?
begs her to “answer not” (II.ii.13), and then is chagrined when she leaves “without a word… so true love should do; it cannot speak, // For truth hath better deeds than words to grace it” (II.ii.16, 17-18).
Act Two, Scene Three takes place in another part of Verona, as Proteus’ servant Launce soliloquizes about the crying he’s been doing over his impending departure from his family in Verona.
is it a soliloquy if there is another soul on stage, albeit a canine one? Launce has brought his dog, Crab, “the sourest-natured dog that lives” (II.iii.5-6)
Launce presents a long-winded metaphor of his family (sometimes diverting into the bawdy), until Panthino (Proteus’ father’s servant) arrives to inform him that Proteus “is shipped, and (Launce) art to post after with oars” (II.iii.32-33). If Speed was running late for Valentine’s departure (delivering Proteus’ letter to Julia), then Launce is even worse, having literally missed the boat.
well, not literally… remember Verona–and Milan–are landlocked cities…
Some more quick banter between the servants, and Launce is off to begin his adventure as well.
Act Two, Scene Four returns us to Milan, now (at least to the stage directions) to the palace of the Duke, with Valentine, Speed, Silvia, and a Sir Thurio. There is some cutting commentary between Valentine and Thurio, and the appearance is that both men are vying for Silvia’s affections; Silvia remains seemingly non-committal. When the Duke arrives, we learn for certain what we should have been suspecting (without textual evidence) since Act Two, Scene One: Silvia is the Duke’s daughter, one that is “hard beset” (II.iv.47) by suitors. But the Duke is more interested in speaking to Valentine for the moment; he asks Valentine if he knows of Don Antonio and his son (Proteus). Valentine praises his friend:
His years but young, but his experience old;
His head unmellowed, but his judgment ripe;
And, in a word, for far behind his worth
Comes all the praises that I now bestow,
He is complete in feature and in mind
With all good grace to grace a gentleman.
Great and kind words of his friend… but are they true? “Complete in feature and in mind”? What we’ve seen so far would not exactly support this, but friendship is king in Valentine’s world. The Duke leaves, calling Thurio to follow. And before we can see the relationship between Valentine and Silvia, Proteus arrives. He greets Silvia with courtly propriety, and Valentine calls for Silvia to allow Proteus to join him in his “entertainment” as her servant. Before she has left to speak with her father, Proteus has agreed that they “both attend on (her) ladyship” (II.iv.119).
Once alone, Valentine asks Proteus of his love back home, and Proteus responds,
My tales of love were wont to weary you;
I know you joy not in a love discourse.
Ay, Proteus, but that life is altered now.
Valentine admits to his friend what we’ve known for a few scenes now: Valentine is a man in love. And while Proteus gives Valentine a relatively hard time–denying Silvia’s “heavenly” (II.iv.143) beauty–he says that it’s payback: “When I was sick, you gave me bitter pills, // And I must minister the like to you” (II.iv.147-148). In response, Valentine offers to have Proteus’ love sent from Verona to “bear (his) lady’s train” (II.iv.157), and become her servant as well. And when Proteus accuses Valentine of bragging, Valentine reveals the secret behind his super-confidence:
We are betrothed: nay, more, our, marriage-hour,
With all the cunning manner of our flight,
He plans to elope with Silvia, and calls for Proteus to help. Proteus promises help and sends Valentine ahead, only to reveal to us in soliloquy:
She is fair; and so is Julia that I love--
That I did love, for now my love is thawed;
Which, like a waxen image, 'gainst a fire,
Bears no impression of the thing it was.
Methinks my zeal to Valentine is cold,
And that I love him not as I was wont.
O, but I love his lady too too much,
And that's the reason I love him so little.
How shall I dote on her with more advice,
That thus without advice begin to love her!
'Tis but her picture I have yet beheld,
And that hath dazzled my reason's light;
But when I look on her perfections,
There is no reason but I shall be blind.
If I can check my erring love, I will;
If not, to compass her I'll use my skill.
so much for friendship and his promises of “true constancy” to Julia…
He has fallen in love (“too TOO much”… emphasis mine) with Silvia, forsaking even the memory of Julia. He no longer feels the bond of love with Valentine as he is supposed to. He will attempt to end his wrong love of Silvia, but if he can’t then he intends to take her from his friend.
In Act Two, Scene Five, the two servants Speed and Launce meet, joke about their masters in love, and join in some bawdiness and puns… another comic relief scene (and a short one).
Act Two, Scene Six is a soliloquy by Proteus, in which he attempts to work through his dilemma. He opens by stating his situation:
To leave my Julia, shall I be forsworn;
To love fair Silvia, shall I be forsworn;
To wrong my friend, I shall be much forsworn;
And even that power which gave me first my oath
Provokes me to this threefold perjury;
Love bade me swear and Love bids me forswear.
He knows that to leave Julia would be to abandon his oath to her; to love Silvia would mean the same abandonment of his word; and to wrong Valentine would be an even greater perjury (notice the “much” in regards to Valentine that is absent in the Julia and Silvia lines). And the fault, in Proteus’ mind at least, lies in Love, a power that made him swear to Julia in the first place, but now “bids” him to break that vow. From this opening, it would seem that he is going to work through the problem (we would hope to an honorable conclusion): he understands that he will be forswearing if he leaves Julia or loves Silvia, but it’s worse to betray his friend. Here, we see that he puts friendship above romantic love.
you can call this the “Bros before Hos Corollary” …
However, within twenty lines, his reasoning begins to solidify:
I cannot leave to love, and yet I do;
But there I leave to love where I should love.
Julia I lose and Valentine I lose:
If I keep them, I needs must lose myself;
If I lose them, thus find I by their loss
For Valentine myself, for Julia Silvia.
I to myself am dearer than a friend,
For love is still most precious in itself
He cannot stop loving, he says, but he has, at least in regards to Julia; and he understands that it is there and with Valentine that he “should love” because if he doesn’t, he will lose both Julia and Valentine. He’s on the right track, but he turns on a dime, concluding that if he “keep(s)” Julia and Valentine, then he will lose himself; and if he loses them, he will find himself (in place of Valentine) and Silvia (in place of Julia). He concludes that “love is still most precious” … especially when it’s love of self, as he holds himself a “dearer than a friend” TO himself.
And from that self-centered worldview, he resolves not only to “forget that Julia is alive” (II.vi.27), but to view Valentine as “an enemy” (II.vi.29). And if that isn’t bad enough, he plans “treachery” (II.vi.32) against Valentine, betraying his and Silvia’s elopement to the Duke. Proteus knows full well that this will cause the Duke to “banish Valentine” (II.vi.38), which will leave the opportunity for Proteus “by some sly trick (to) blunt Thurio’s dull proceeding” (II.vi.41). At no point does he consider Silvia’s feelings; it’s all about him.
As we see in Act Two’s last and seventh scene, Proteus isn’t the only one who has him at the center of his/her world. Back in Verona, Julia so misses Proteus, that she plans with Lucetta to follow her love to Milan. Lucetta attempts to dissuade Julia (trying to “qualify the fire’s extreme rage, // Lest it should burn above the bounds of reason” [II.vii.22-23]), but to no avail. Julia decides to go on her journey, disguised as a boy (to “prevent // The loose encounters of lascivious men” [II.vii.40-41]). Lucetta fears that Proteus “will scarce be pleased” (II.vii.67) by the journey. That’s right, my friends: IRONY ALERT.
And if that wasn’t ironic enough, Julia says of “deceitful men” (II.vii.72)–men NOT like her Proteus:
Base men, that use them to so base effect!
But truer stars did govern Proteus' birth
His words are bonds, his oaths are oracles,
His love sincere, his thoughts immaculate,
His tears pure messengers sent from his heart,
His heart as far from fraud as heaven from earth.
And the act ends with her preparing to leave. And what a different world we have at the end of this act than we did at the beginning: Valentine, a believer in friendship, has gone from manly focus to love to intended elopement. Love struck Proteus has gone from Verona to Milan, fallen out of love with Julia, in “love” with Silvia, and out of friendship with Valentine, going so far as planning the betrayal of his friend. And poor Julia? She’s embarking on a mission of love to a man who no longer loves her (one who says he “will forget Julia is alive” [II.vi.27]).
And, remember, this is a comedy.