Summary and Analysis Act II: Scenes 5-6



Speed welcomes Launce to Padua. (Since they are in Milan he may be teasing the other servant, taking him for a fool.) Speed inquires "how did thy master part with Madam Julia?" The two then bandy the topic about in the customary lewd fashion for "low" characters:

Launce: Marry, thus: when it stands well with him,
it stands well with her, (22–23)

But the gist of Launce's remarks affirms that Proteus and Julia are virtually married.

Scene six consists of a forty-three-line monologue in which Proteus resolves to betray Julia and Valentine in pursuit of Silvia. To start, he will inform Silvia's father that the couple is planning to elope: "All enraged, he [the father] will banish Valentine." After that, outwitting Thurio should be no problem.


What shocks the audience (and often upsets critics) is the quickness with which Proteus translates infatuation with Silvia into concrete plans to jilt his betrothed and betray his closest friend. The scene between Launce and Speed serves to emphasize the effect: no sooner has Launce reaffirmed his master's commitment to Julia, than Proteus dismisses her as "a twinkling star" compared to Silvia, "a celestial sun." His rationalization is similar to the intellectual sleight of hand in Love's Labour's Lost with the difference that, here, deep personal bonds are being violated:

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. . . . (18–24)

As will be the case with the great "villains" Shakespeare is yet to create, Proteus's argument hinges on egotism, placing "self' above the sacred demands of friendship.

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