The most important thing to know about Valentine is that he is Proteus's BFF. At least we're pretty sure that's what Valentine would want us to say. (If you haven't already read our analysis of Proteus, you should do that now because these guys are like two peas in a pod – they're the Batman and Robin of sixteenth-century literature, the Han Solo and Chewbacca of Shakespearean comedy, the Captain Kirk and Spock of Renaissance drama. You catch our drift?)
Valentine and Romance
This young gentleman from Verona is guilty of some pretty bizarre behavior in the play – after catching his best friend trying to rape his girlfriend Silvia, he forgives Proteus and then offers to "give" Silvia over to Proteus as a gesture of friendship. We know you're just dying to know more about Valentine's oh-so generous offer to his friend, but first we need to think about Valentine's attitude toward love.
At the beginning of the play, Valentine seems like a hater – he mocks Proteus for being in love with Julia and claims that romance has transformed Proteus into a "fool" (1.1.38).
If haply won, perhaps a hapless gain;
If lost, why then a grievous labor won;
How ever, but a folly bought with wit,
Or else a wit by folly vanquishèd. (1.1.34-37)
According to Valentine, if a man succeeds in winning a woman's heart, it is a "hapless gain." On the other hand, if a man loses in love, it's a "labor won." Pretty cynical, don't you think?
Valentine Meets Silvia
Enter Silvia. When Valentine meets the Duke of Milan's sassy daughter, everything changes. He falls in love and proceeds to play the part of the male lover in a courtly romance. This basically means that Valentine places Silvia on a pedestal while Silvia treats Valentine like her "servant." (That's how guys and girls flirt in "courtly romance" literature like Chaucer's "The Knight's Tale." And yes, Shakespeare is totally making fun of courtly romance. Chaucer, by the way, made fun of it too. Just read "The Miller's Tale" if you don't believe us.)
Valentine is so smitten with Silvia that he literally risks his neck to be with her. When Silvia's dad banishes Valentine from Milan, Valentine gets pretty dramatic. Check out what he has to say in the play's most famous monologue:
To die is to be banished from myself;
And Silvia is myself: banished from her
Is self from self—a deadly banishment.
What light is light if Silvia be not seen?
What joy is joy if Silvia be not by— (3.1.175-179)
In elevated terms, Valentine declares that life is meaningless for him without Silvia, so much so that fleeing from Milan is as good as dying. Valentine seems like he's pretty crazy about Silvia, right? There's just one thing. His big speech about Silvia is way over the top. We might say that it's a little too over the top. When Valentine elevates Silvia in an unrealistic way, we wonder if his love is really genuine.
Valentine's Offer to Proteus
Even if we question Valentine's devotion to Silvia, we're still pretty shocked when Valentine offers to "give" her over to his best friend, especially since Valentine's offer comes on the heels of Proteus's attempt to rape Silvia (5.4). Here's how it goes down:
After Proteus apologizes to Valentine for being a lousy friend (there's no apology for assaulting Silvia), Valentine forgives him immediately and says, "All that was mine in Silvia I give thee" (5.4.89). There are a few ways to read this:
- Any claims I made to Silvia's love, I give thee. (He's going to step aside and let Proteus have her.)
- All the love I gave to Silvia, I give thee. (He loves Proteus more than he loves Silvia.)
- All the love I gave to Silvia, I'll give to you too. (He'll love Proteus and Silvia equally.)