Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Valentine and Proteus, two longtime friends, disagree heartily on whether, as Valentine thinks, the most important thing in life is to travel and to learn the wonders of the world, or whether Proteus is right in believing nothing to be more important than love. The two friends part for a time when Valentine travels to Milan, to seek advancement and honor in the palace of the duke. He pleads with Proteus to join him in the venture, but Proteus is too much in love with Julia to leave her side for even a short time. Julia is a noble and pure young girl, who has many suitors. Proteus at last wins her heart and the two are happy in their love.
Valentine journeys to Milan, and there he learns that his friend is right about the importance of love. Valentine meets the duke’s daughter, Silvia, and falls instantly in love with her. Silvia returns his love, but her father wants her to marry Thurio, a foolish man with no personal charms but much land and gold. Valentine longs for Silvia but sees no chance of persuading her father to consent to his suit. Then he learns that Proteus, whose father is ignorant of Proteus’s love affair and wishes his son to educate himself by travel, is soon to arrive in Milan.
The two friends have a joyful reunion, and Valentine proudly presents his friend to Silvia. To Proteus he praises the virtue and beauty of his beloved, and when they are alone, Valentine confides to Proteus that, since Sylvia’s father refuses to...
(The entire section is 1016 words.)
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The historical period in which the dramatic action occurs is not specified—it may be the fifteenth or sixteenth century. The first act takes place in the Italian city of Verona. As the play begins, two young men—close friends since childhood— are bidding each other farewell. One of them, Valentine, is about to leave for Milan, to learn the sophisticated ways of courtly society. He says he regrets that his friend Proteus will not be going with him, though he understands that love keeps him in Verona. The setting shifts to a garden outside a villa, where Julia, the object of Proteus's love, is talking with her maid Lucetta. When Lucetta tries to give her mistress a letter from Proteus, Julia pretends to be outraged by her maid's boldness and sends Lucetta away. Immediately regretting this, she calls her back. When Lucetta gives her the letter, Julia takes one look at it, then tears it into pieces and sends Lucetta away again. Julia picks up some of the pieces from the ground where she has thrown them and reads the words written on the fragments, treating each scrap with passionate tenderness. The scene shifts once again, this time to an unspecified location, where Proteus's father Antonio and Antonio's servant Panthino are deep in conversation. In the course of their talk, Antonio decides that Proteus ought to be traveling or studying at a university instead of remaining at home, and he resolves to send Proteus to Milan the very next day....
(The entire section is 1793 words.)