Valentine (VAL-ehn-tin), a witty young gentleman of Verona. Scoffing at his lovesick friend, Proteus, he goes with his father to Milan, where he enters the court of the duke and promptly falls in love with Silvia, the ruler’s daughter. He plans to elope with her but finds his plot betrayed to the duke. He flees to a nearby forest to save his life. There, he joins a band of outlaws and becomes their leader, a sort of Robin Hood. His concept of the superior claims of friendship over love is uncongenial to the modern reader, who finds it hard to forgive him when he calmly bestows Silvia on Proteus, from whose clutches he has just rescued her, to testify to the depth of his renewed friendship for the young man.
Proteus (PROH-tee-uhs), his friend, a self-centered youth who fancies himself a lover in the best Euphuistic tradition. He forgets his strong protestations of undying affection for Julia when he meets Valentine’s Silvia in Milan. No loyalties deter him from betraying his friend’s planned elopement to the duke, then deceiving the latter by trying to win the girl for himself while he pretends to be furthering the courtship of Sir Thurio. When Silvia resists his advances, he carries her off by force. Stricken with remorse when Valentine interposes to protect her, he promises to reform. The constancy of his cast-off sweetheart, Julia, makes him recognize his faithlessness and her virtue, and they are happily reunited.
Julia, a young noblewoman of Verona. She criticizes her suitors with the humorous detachment of a Portia before she confesses to her maid her fondness for Proteus. She follows him to Milan in the disguise of the page Sebastian, and with dogged devotion she even carries Proteus’ messages to her rival, Silvia, to be near him. She reveals her identity almost unwittingly by fainting when Valentine relinquishes Silvia to Proteus as a token of his friendship. She regains the love of her fiancé by this demonstration of her love.
Silvia (SIHL-vee-uh), the daughter of the duke of Milan. She falls in love with Valentine and encourages his suit. She asks him to copy a love letter for her—directed to himself, although he does not realize this fact at first. Proteus’ fickle admiration annoys rather than pleases her, and she stands so firm in her love for Valentine that his generous offer of her to Proteus seems almost intolerable.
Speed, Valentine’s exuberant, loquacious servant, cleverer than his master at seeing through Silvia’s device of the love letter. He is one of the earliest of the playwright’s witty clowns, the predecessor of Touchstone, Feste, and the Fool in King Lear.
Launce (lahns), Proteus’ man, a simple soul given to malapropisms and social faux pas, in spite of his excellent intentions. His presentation to Silvia, in Proteus’ name, of his treasured mongrel, Crab, a dog “as big as ten” of the creature sent by his master as a gift, does little to further Proteus’ courtship. Inspired by his master’s gallantry, he pays court to a milkmaid and gives great...
(The entire section is 789 words.)