The Two Gentlemen of Verona deals with the debate over the relative merits of love and friendship between two young courtiers Valentine and Proteus. One of the great debates of the Renaissance was the discussion of whether the love of a woman was a sentiment more noble than the friendship that might exist between men. We also see the first instances of later female heroines in the qualities of Julia and Silvia.
The plays starts with the two friends together, Valentine is getting ready to leave for the court of Milan, and is chastening his friend Proteus to accompany him, and leave Julia the girl he loves, and the dull life of home Than, living dully sluggardiz’d at home (1. 1. 7). Proteus being love struck is willing at this point to stay at home, and let his friend leave alone. Showing at this point that love does outweigh friendship. After Valentine leaves, Proteus’s father is persuaded to make his son seek out his future away from home also.
When we next catch up with Valentine he is in the court of Milan, and is trying to woe the Dukes daughter Silvia, who has been promised to Thurio who is a pompous, rich gentlemen, and like the rich snob of modern times will not get the lady’s hand. On the other hand Valentine seems so immature and nave, in that the Dukes daughter Silvia, plays him for the fool that he’s acting like. Speed the page to Valentine, has seen this, and when he tries to tell his master it is to complicated for the love struck hero to follow. What needs she, when she has made you write to yourself?
Why, do you not perceive the jest? (2. 1. 152-154). When Proteus arrives in the court of Milan he encounters the now love sick Valentine, and after hearing the description of Silvia from his friend he instantly falls in love with the idea of her. This is where we see a friendship go astray and the power of love take hold. We see that Proteus is willing to give up a friendship with Valentine, so that he can fall in love with Silvia. This act may also show a subtle way in which Proteus feels that if he is no longer friends with Valentine he will not have to feel guilty about his feelings for Silvia.
Methinks, my zeal to Valentine is cold; And that I love him not. (2. 4. 206-207) Valentine being none the wiser tells of his plan to elope with Silvia, and this enables Proteus to eliminate one of the competition. We see how much of a low life Proteus becomes when the Duke want to eliminate the memory of Valentine from Silvia head. Proteus is willing to completely destroy Valentine’s reputation in front of Silvia, so that he might look all the better. Proteus is now going to woe Silvia and use the fact that he is doing it for Thurio to openly make his case to Silvia.
Unlike the scoundrel Proteus, Silvia is willing to stick by the man she loves, Valentine, and dismisses the advances of Proteus even after Proteus tells her Valentine is dead. I likewise hear that Valentine is dead. And so suppose I am, for in his grave assure thyself my love is buried. After this encounter Julia reenters the scene as a page to Proteus, which he uses to pursue Silvia. The final scenes has all the characters go into the forest Silvia to find Valentine, Proteus to pursue Silvia, and Julia to Pursue Proteus.
While on the forest path Silvia is captured by the outlaws that live their, and Proteus in turn rescues her, but not because he is a gentleman, but because of selfish interests. As Julia disguised as a page encounters Proteus and Silvia he is pursuing her harder than ever, and is even willing to force himself upon her. I’ll force thee yield to my desire. (5. 4. 59) Valentine now steps in and Disowns Proteus as a friend. Proteus on the other hand like his name states is willing to change quickly back again, and become Valentines friend, and gives full repentance to Valentine who forgives him almost instantaneously.
Valentine is now also willing to give up Silvia to Proteus All that was mine in Silvia, I give thee (5. 4. 88) If not for Julia’s actions next we don’t know if Proteus would have taken Valentine up on his offer, but instead all is put right but the discovery of Julia under the pages clothing. The play concludes with Valentine challenging Thurio for Silvia and Thurio backing down, and this is where the Duke accepts Valentine as a gentleman able to marry Silvia, although at this time the duke being surrounded by Valentines outlaws did not have a lot of options.
The two women in the end of the play are shown to be almost puppet like, and controlled by the will of the men around, and do not have a say in the outcome at all. The debate of love over friendship is placed back in a balance when Valentine says that they will all marry on the same day and live in the same place Our day of marriage shall be yours, one feast, one house, one mutual happiness.
The play shows Proteus to be a false friend, a sly trickster, a liar, a coward, a slanderer and a ruffian, and this is the same person whom Valentine had described as having spent his youth in putting on an angel like perfection but in turn love drives this perfection out, and a devilish attitude in. Only the gentleman Valentine can put things back into order, which he does at the end, and love and friendship live together hand in hand.