Summary and Analysis Act II: Scene 4



At Silvia's instigation, two of her suitors, Thurio and Valentine, engage in verbal fisticuffs to cull her favor. The level of debate is not particularly high:

Silvia: What, angry, Sir Thurio! Do you change
Valentine: Give him leave, Madam; he is a kind of
Thurio: That hath more mind to feed on your blood
than live in your air. (23–25)

Silvia's father interrupts the proceedings to tell them of the unexpected arrival of Sir Proteus; he is assured of Proteus's upstanding good character by Valentine:

He is complete in feature and in mind
With all good grace to grace a gentleman. (73–74)

Hardly has he finished when Proteus comes onto the stage and is warmly greeted by his friend, who introduces him to Silvia. Proteus greets her with conventional good manners, telling her that he is "too mean a servant/To have a look of such a worthy mistress." When Silvia exits, Valentine inquires after friends and relations in Verona, including Julia. Proteus soon learns that his friend has fallen in love with Silvia:

Proteus: Enough; I read your fortune in your eye.
Was this the idol that you worship so?
Valentine: Even she; and is she not a heavenly saint?
Proteus: No, but she is an earthly paragon. (143–46)

He further learns of their betrothal and that Valentine is troubled by a wealthy rival.

Left alone, Proteus reveals in a monologue his own infatuation with Silvia, something he feels to such an extent that his love for Julia,

. . . like a waxen image 'gainst a fire,
Bears no impression of the thing it was. (201–2)

The scene ends on his somewhat shocking remark:

If I can check my erring love, I will;
If not, to compass [win] her I'll use my skill. (213–14)


The entire scene would be quite ordinary, if not downright dull, if it weren't for the fact that we know by Pretens's last lines that once he meets Silvia a strange and ambiguous undercurrent colors the action and dialogue. The usually matter-of-fact Valentine asks Proteus about Julia, but, with love of Silvia very much on his mind, Proteus tries to change the subject: "I know you joy not in a love discourse." Then later, when the two friends argue the relative merits of their ladies — standard behavior for friends — Proteus becomes quite abrupt:

Proteus: Why, Valentine, what braggardism is this?
Valentine: Pardon me, Proteus. All I can is nothing To her, whose worth makes other worthies nothing;
She is alone.
Proteus: Then let her alone.
Valentine: Not for the world. (164–69)

Shakespeare, like others before him, uses the idea of "love at first sight" to stir the ashes of a dying plot, and, here, he manufactures an inner conflict to enhance the character of Proteus.

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! (203–5)

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