Study Guide

The Two Gentlemen of Verona Lies and Deceit

By William Shakespeare

Lies and Deceit

JULIA
How angerly I taught my brow to frown,
When inward joy enforced my heart to smile! (1.2.65-66)

Julia admits that when she learned how Proteus had written her a letter, she was jumping for joy on the inside. But, she disguised her true feelings by pretending to be angry at his forwardness. In the first scene especially, Julia tends to play a lot of mind games when it comes to romance.

VALENTINE
I mean that her beauty is exquisite, but her
favor infinite.
SPEED
That's because the one is painted and the other
out of all count. (2.1.53-57)

Here, Speed makes a nasty little jab at the practice of wearing makeup, which he perceives as a deceptive practice. According to Speed, the only reason Silvia looks like a "beauty" is because she covers her face with a "painted" mask.

We see this same kind of attitude toward women and cosmetics in plays like Hamlet, where, for example, King Claudius compares his "painted word[s]" (every lie he tells) to the way a "harlot" "plasters" her face with makeup:

The harlot's cheek, beautied with plastering art,
Is not more ugly to the thing that helps it
Than is my deed to my most painted word: (3.1.4)

VALENTINE
What means your Ladyship? Do you not like it?
SILVIA
Yes, yes, the lines are very quaintly writ,
But since unwillingly, take them again.
Nay, take them.              She again offers him the paper
VALENTINE
Madam, they are for you.
SILVIA
Ay, ay. You writ them, sir, at my request,
But I will none of them. They are for you.
I would have had them writ more movingly. (2.1.122-129)

Julia isn't the only female character to play coy when it comes to romance. Here, Silvia becomes angry at Valentine for failing to realize that she wanted him to write her a love letter. The thing is, it's Silvia's own fault because, instead of just coming out and saying that she wanted a love note, she asked poor Valentine to write a letter to a "friend" of hers. We shouldn't be too hard on Silvia, though. After all, once she and Valentine are (secretly) engaged, she's incredibly loyal to him.


Now presently I'll give her father notice
Of their disguising and pretended flight,
Who, all enraged, will banish Valentine,
For Thurio, he intends, shall wed his daughter.
But, Valentine being gone, I'll quickly cross
By some sly trick blunt Thurio's dull proceeding.
Love, lend me wings to make my purpose swift,
As thou hast lent me wit to plot this drift. (2.6.36-43)

When Valentine and Silvia fall in love, they get engaged in secret and hatch a plan to elope. (Silvia's dad wants her to marry Thurio.) Pretty sneaky, right? But what's worse – the couples' plan to run off and marry in secret, or Proteus's plan to tattle on them to Silvia's father? Here, Proteus tells us that he's going to tell because he wants to steal Silvia away from both Thurio and his best friend, Valentine.

DUKE
This love of theirs myself have often seen,
Haply when they have judged me fast asleep,
And oftentimes have purposed to forbid
Sir Valentine her company and my court. (3.1.24-27)

Huh. The Duke of Milan isn't as dumb as some characters seem to think. Here, he admits that he's suspected all along that Silvia and Valentine have been sneaking around behind his back.

PROTEUS
Thy letters may be here, though thou art hence,
Which, being writ to me, shall be delivered
Even in the milk-white bosom of thy love.
The time now serves not to expostulate.
Come, I'll convey thee through the city gate (3.1.254-258)

That Proteus sure is tricky, isn't he? While he pretends to be heartbroken about his friend getting banished from Milan, he's actually planning to steal Silvia from Valentine. Here, he generously offers to escort Valentine to the city limits. How thoughtful.

PROTEUS
The best way is to slander Valentine
With falsehood, cowardice and poor descent,
Three things that women highly hold in hate. (3.2.31-33)

We knew Proteus was bad before, but his deception just keeps getting worse. By this point, he's already arranged to get Valentine kicked out of Milan. Now, he's planning on talking trash about him to Silvia so she'll think he's a loser.

JULIA
How many women would do such a message?
Alas, poor Proteus, thou hast entertain'd
A fox to be the shepherd of thy lambs.
Alas, poor fool, why do I pity him
[…]
And now am I, unhappy messenger,
To plead for that which I would not obtain,
To carry that which I would have refused,
To praise his faith which I would have dispraised.
I am my master's true confirmèd love,
But cannot be true servant to my master
Unless I prove false traitor to myself.
Yet will I woo for him, but yet so coldly
As—Heaven it knows!—I would not have him
   speed. (4.4.95-98; 104-113)

Poor Julia. When Proteus asks "Sebastian" (Julia in disguise) to deliver her ring to another woman, she actually feels bad that she's deceiving Proteus by being in disguise. Then she comes to her senses (sort of) when she recognizes that he really doesn't deserve her "pity." In the end, Julia completes the errand but acknowledges that, by playing the part of the obedient "servant" (she's been hired as Proteus's page boy), she's being a "traitor" to herself.

JULIA, as Sebastian
When all our pageants of delight were played,
Our youth got me to play the woman's part,
And I was trimmed in Madam Julia's gown,
Which served me as fit, by all men's judgments,
As if the garment had been made for me;
Therefore I know she is about my height.
And at that time I made her weep agood,
For I did play a lamentable part;
Madam, 'twas Ariadne, passioning
For Theseus' perjury and unjust flight,
Which I so lively acted with my tears
That my poor mistress, movèd therewithal,
Wept bitterly; and would I might be dead
If I in thought felt not her very sorrow. (4.4.168-181)

The only way Julia can talk about her heartache is by pretending to be someone else. Here, she's disguised as "Sebastian" and she tells Silvia that she once borrowed Julia's clothes to plat the role of "Ariadne" in a church play. She goes on to fib that her performance of this "woman's part" was so good that it moved Julia to tears. "Ariadne" is a figure from Greek mythology – she's famous for hanging herself after her boyfriend, Theseus, breaks up with her. Now, we know that Julia/Sebastian never played the role of Ariadne in a play. This made up story is Julia's only way of expressing her sadness over the loss of Proteus.

JULIA
O, Proteus, let this habit make thee blush.
Be thou ashamed that I have took upon me
Such an immodest raiment, if shame live
In a disguise of love.
It is the lesser blot, modesty finds,
Women to change their shapes than men their minds. (5.4.112-117)

When Julia reveals her true identity to Proteus, she declares that his cheating and infidelity are the worst kind of betrayal – worse than her own deception when she let him believe she was a boy ("Sebastian").