I will say this for ol’ Bill, his stories move fast. We go from a very simple setup in Act I to a fairly complicated plot in Act II. Valentine is revealed to be just as susceptible to love as the friend he derided at the start of the play. Proteus is proven to be not only inconstant, but cunning and deceitful as well. We meet Silvia, but I’m not at all sure what to think of her. And then there’s Julia, possibly the most interesting character so far as we’ll soon see.
The act begins with our guy Valentine in Milan as a servant of some sort to Silvia, daughter of the Duke. He finds a glove on the ground and believes it to belong to Silvia, with whom he has become infatuated. Turns out she has asked him to write a letter on her behalf to some guy she’s into. She reads the letter and gives it back to him, saying it’s okay but not right for her purposes. He does not give her the glove, however.
As this is all happening, Proteus and Julia say their tearful goodbyes at the docks in Verona. She gives him a ring to remember her by, kind of an echo of the glove that Valentine has in his possession. Also at the dock is Proteus’ servant Launce, who is, so far, the funniest Shakespearean character I’ve seen. He is kind of an Elizabethan Eeyore, so morose that he sails right past pathetic and becomes hilarious. He is weeping about having to leave his family behind and begins to reenact parting from his parents by pretending his shoes each represent one of his parents. He ends up wailing on the dock, hugging and kissing his shoes when Panthino interrupts him and tells him to get on the ship.
Back in Milan, Valentine perceives a rival for Silvia’s affections in a silly guy named Thurio. The two bicker back and forth and Silvia seems to enjoy the attention for a moment but eventually tires of it and tells them both to leave off. The Duke comes in and tells Valentine that his good friend Proteus has come to town. Valentine is elated and as soon as Proteus arrives, tells him all about Silvia and how great she is. Proteus seems unconvinced, but hey, different strokes for different folks, right? Valentine secures Proteus a position as another servant to Silvia. As soon as Valentine is gone, Proteus tells us that he really is into Silvia now and he has all but forgotten Julia. He has even come up with a plan to get Silvia to himself by telling the Duke that Valentine plans to elope with his daughter, thereby getting him banished from Milan. Muahahaha! Of course then he’ll have to figure out what to do about Thurio, but he’ll cross that bridge when he comes to it. Proteus’ fickle nature is confirmed by Launce, who, in his despondent way, tells Speed that he believes all is finished between his master and Julia because Proteus is an out-of-sight, out-of-mind kind of guy.
The plot thickens back in Verona when Julia decides she can’t take the separation from her man. She decides she is going to Milan herself in secret. However, she doesn’t think it’s safe to be a woman travelling alone, so she decides to dress as a man for her journey. Her maid Lucetta seems to back her in all of this, setting the scene for a wildly eventful Act III.
I’m shocked at how much I’m enjoying this play. It’s so much funnier than its predecessors, but it’s also much more precise storytelling. I got lost a number of times during The Comedy of Errors and I could not be bothered to follow The Taming of the Shrew too closely, for fear of abandoning this project altogether. But this one is sharp, with snappy dialogue and fun characters. I’m cautiously optimistic that I will end up enjoying it all the way through.