Proteus is in love with love.
Act I, Scene 1
Valentine teases his friend Proteus for giving up on adventure because of love. Proteus tells him to think of him during his travels because Proteus will be keeping Valentine in his prayers. Valentine can’t see the benefits of love. He thinks it is a foolish enterprise to seek love. Proteus disagrees and points out that the great writers say the food of love feeds the wit. Valentine also thinks this is dumb, but doesn’t have time to argue anymore because he is off to Milan.
Shortly after Valentine leaves, his man-servant, Speed, enters. He was off carrying a message for Proteus to his love, Julia. Speed laments at missing his master and Proteus calls him a sheep. They argue about who is the sheep and who is the shepherd in this situation. Eventually, Proteus grows tired of the sheep exchange and asks Speed about his letter. Speed is more irritated that absolutely no one gave him money for delivering the letter, so it takes some prodding before he finally reveals that Julia didn’t do anything when she received the letter. She just nodded. Proteus is very upset by this fact and Speed doesn’t help by insisting that Proteus will never win Julia’s heart.
Proteus sends Speed off and is determined to find a better messenger for his love notes.
Act I, Scene 2
Julia asks her maid, Lucetta, which suitor she should marry. Lucetta thinks that Proteus is the best just because. Julia is hesitant, so Lucetta reveals his note. Julia demands that she sends it straight back to Proteus. Lucetta leaves.
Julia immediately regrets her decision, but is too proud to call Lucetta back. Eventually, Julia’s curiosity over the note is too much to bear and she calls Lucetta back. She immediately regrets that decision and starts asking about dinner. Lucetta sees right through that nonsense and not-so-subtly drops the note on the ground. She pretends it’s a song. Julia plays along but refuses to sing it herself. The joke goes on too long and Julia tears apart the letter.
Lucetta can’t handle any more ridiculousness and leaves. Julia immediately regrets tearing up the letter. She quickly drifts in between love and self-hatred and love and self-hatred. Then she folds one of the scraps of paper, so their two names kiss. You know, a typical hysterical woman.
Lucetta calls her in for dinner. They leave the torn up letter on the ground.
Act I, Scene 3
Antonio, Proteus’ father, asks his servant, Panthino, what he was talking to Antonio’s brother about. Panthino explains that all of the young men Proteus’ age are leaving home to find their own way in life through war, or university, or serving in a great court. Proteus’ uncle, through Panthino, implores Antonio to send Proteus away. Antonio has had exactly the same thought, but doesn’t know where to send his son. Panthino reminds him that Valentine has gone to Milan to serve in the Emperor’s court. Antonio thinks this is an excellent idea and tells Panthino that Proteus will be sent to Milan at once.
Proteus enters, clutching a letter from the love of his life, Julia. She loves him too, but Proteus is concerned that their fathers won’t approve. Antonio asks him who the letter is from and he pretends it is from Valentine, wishing Proteus was with him. Antonio grants “Valentine’s wish” and tells Proteus he leaves tomorrow. Proteus asks him to think about it, but he won’t and tells Panthino to begin preparations.
Proteus is devastated, but is still too afraid of rejection to show his father the letter. He resigns to going to Milan.
Act II, Scene 1
Speed delivers a lady’s glove to Valentine, but this is not any lady’s glove. This glove belongs to the love of Valentine’s life, Silvia. Speed, of course, new that Valentine was in love because he had been acting ridiculous and contrary to his entire personality. Valentine asks if Speed knows Silvia. Speed knows little about her except that Valentine stares at her all the time. Speed explains to Valentine that he doesn’t see all the things wrong with Silvia because love makes one blind. Valentine thinks he’s being dumb, but is concerned because Silvia asked him to write a letter to her love.
Silvia enter, inquiring about her letter. Valentine gives it to her and after reading it, she hands it back. She tells him it’s not pretty enough and he should try again. He asks what he should do if it isn’t good enough. She tells him to do nothing with it. He asks what to do if it is good enough. She said to keep it because by keeping it, he would be delivering it to her love.
Speed has to explain to Valentine, after Silvia leaves, that she was saying she loves him too. Apparently love makes one blind and dumb.
Act II, Scene 2
Julia weeps as Proteus prepares to leave. They exchange rings to remember each other by and Julia runs off sobbing without actually saying goodbye. Proteus understands.
Act II, Scene 3
Launce, Proteus’ servant, sits with his dog lamenting his sad goodbye to his family. Apparently everyone was sad to see him leave and he was sad to be leaving. Even the cat was upset, but not his dog. His dog was cool with it.
Panthino comes to fetch him and ask about the tide. Launce is extremely dense, so they have a frustrating conversation full of homophones. Eventually an exasperated Panthino asks Launce to get to the ship and he does.
Act II, Scene 4
Silvia asks Valentine why he looks sad. He said he only seems sad, but isn’t. Thurio chimes in that Valentine must be “counterfeit” then. Valentine says the same of Thurio because he seems wise. They exchange a bunch of insults which all pretty much end with Thurio looking dumb. Silvia finally puts an end to things because her father is coming.
The Duke asks Valentine what he thinks of Proteus. Valentine, of course, gives him a glowing recommendation. The Duke is impressed and tells Valentine that Proteus will be joining him at court and will also serve the Duke. Valentine is very excited and explains to Silvia why. She asks about Proteus’ great love. Valentine says he’s pretty sure they still love each other. They talk vaguely about love, teasing Thurio a bit until he leaves.
Valentine and Silvia give Proteus a warm welcome. She agrees to put Proteus on her service, but he comes so highly recommended she doesn’t feel worthy. He tells her he is the one who is unworthy and they exchange similar compliments until Thurio calls her away.
Once they’re alone, Valentine explains that he loves Silvia. Proteus teases him because Valentine teased Proteus about Julia. Valentine tries to get Proteus to admit that Silvia is just the best and Proteus defends Julia as the best. This is when Valentine explains his grand plot to elope with Silvia in the night.
After Valentine leaves, Proteus reveals that he too loves Silvia and finds everything about her an improvement on Julia.
Act II, Scene 5
Speed welcome Launce to Milan and tries to press him for the dirt on how Proteus and Julia left things. Launce, as usual, is extremely dense and can’t follow a conversation at all (darn this homophones!). Speed tries to change the subject to Valentine being in love, but Launce can’t follow. Both eventually get so frustrated with the conversation that they just decide to go drink.
Act II, Scene 6
Proteus delivers a long soliloquy about how amazing Silvia is, but questioning if he’s willing to lose Valentine and Julia for her. He is. He decides to tell the Duke about Valentine’s plans to steal Silvia away in the night.
Act II, Scene 7
Julia, at the same time, hatches her own plot to run away from home to join Proteus in Milan. Lucetta is shocked at the suggestion but agrees to help. Julia decides to travel dressed as a man with her hair pinned up in such a way that she looks like a boy.
Julia worries that she will be the subject of scandal and infamy. Lucetta tells her not to worry about that. She worries that Proteus doesn’t still love Julia. Julia thinks that’s just ridiculous because his love for her is so pure. They wish each other well and Julia prepares to depart.