Study Guide

The Two Gentlemen of Verona Transformation

By William Shakespeare


I leave myself, my friends and all, for love.
Thou, Julia, thou hast metamorphosed me,
Made me neglect my studies, lose my time,
War with good counsel, set the world at nought;
Made wit with musing weak, heart sick with thought. (1.1.67-71)

Proteus claims that his love for Julia has transformed him, and not in a good way. Ever since Julia came along, he no longer does his homework, he wastes all of his time, and he argues with his friends. What's more, Proteus claims that love has also made him weak witted (stupid).

Marry, by these special marks: first, you have
learned, like Sir Proteus, to wreathe your arms, like
a malecontent; to relish a love song like a robin
redbreast; to walk alone, like one that had the
pestilence; to sigh, like a schoolboy that had lost his
ABC; to weep, like a young wench that had buried
her grandam; to fast, like one that takes diet; to
watch like one that fears robbing; to speak puling,
like a beggar at Hallowmas. You were wont, when
you laughed, to crow like a cock; when you walked,
to walk like one of the lions; when you fasted, it was
presently after dinner; when you looked sadly, it
was for want of money. And now you are metamorphosed
with a mistress, that when I look on you, I
can hardly think you my master. (2.1.18-32)

When Valentine falls for Silvia, Speed accuses him of being so "metamorphosed" by love that he can hardly recognize Valentine as his master. Speed's laundry list of comparisons (Valentine used to walk like a "lion" but now he weeps like a "young wench," and so on) emphasizes Speed's point – Valentine has undergone a complete transformation. We see this same idea in plays like A Midsummer Night's Dream and Taming of the Shrew, where love has the capacity to alter those who are under its spell.

You never saw her since she was deformed.
How long hath she been deformed?
Ever since you loved her.
I have loved her ever since I saw her, and
still I see her beautiful.
If you love her, you cannot see her. (2.1.63-68)

Valentine thinks Silvia is the most beautiful woman on earth, but, here, Speed deflates his love for Silvia by insisting that love has "blinded" Valentine, or has at least impaired his vision. Speed insists that, by falling in love with Julia, Valentine caused Julia to be "deformed." Translation: Valentine is wearing love goggles, which distorts Valentine's image of her.

What, angry, Sir Thurio? Do you change color?
Give him leave, madam. He is a kind of
That hath more mind to feed on your blood
than live in your air. (2.4.23-27)

Thurio is so enraged by Valentine and Silvia's flirtatious relationship that his face turns red. Silvia, being the sassy girl that she is, makes fun of him and Valentine piles on the insults by calling Thurio a "chameleon," a creature with the capacity to change color. Is Valentine also suggesting that Thurio has a fickle personality? If so, he might be right because, later in the play, Thurio decides he's no longer interested in a "peevish" girl (5.2.33).

But in what habit will you go along?
Not like a woman, for I would prevent
The loose encounters of lascivious men.
Gentle Lucetta, fit me with such weeds
As may beseem some well-reputed page. (2.7.39-43)

Julia is determined to follow Proteus to Milan, but, as a woman, travelling alone is a big no-no. The solution? To transform her appearance by disguising herself as a boy.

She hath been fairer, madam, than she is;
When she did think my master loved her well,
She, in my judgment, was as fair as you.
But since she did neglect her looking-glass
And threw her sun-expelling mask away,
The air hath starved the roses in her cheeks
And pinched the lily-tincture of her face,
That now she is become as black as I. (4.4.158-165)

Disguised as "Sebastian," Julia reveals to Silvia that she feels her love for Proteus has physically transformed her. At one time, she was a beauty but, since Proteus betrayed her, Julia says she has neglected her appearances. Julia's remarks are a bit ironic, given that she's wearing a disguise that literally has changed her looks. At the same time, Julia's sense that she has become physically unattractive is probably a reflection of how heartache makes her feel on the inside.

We also want to point out that Julia's comments about no longer being fair (light-complexioned and good-looking) because she hasn't protected her skin from the sun's rays reflects a common sixteenth-century idea in England – that light skin is more attractive than dark skin. One of the clearest examples of this attitude can be seen in the words of several characters in Othello.

How use doth breed a habit in a man!
This shadowy desert, unfrequented woods,
I better brook than flourishing peopled towns;
Here can I sit alone, unseen of any,
And to the nightingale's complaining notes
Tune my distresses and record my woes. (5.4.1-6)

When Valentine gets kicked out of Milan for trying to elope with the Duke's daughter, he bums around a forest, where he finds a sense of peace bemoaning his sadness in harmony with the mournful sounds of the nightingale. As literary scholar Jean Howard reminds us, Valentine's reference to the nightingale recalls the mythic story of Philomela, who was raped by Tereus and eventually transformed into a nightingale whose sad tune mourned the loss of Philomela's virginity. OK, we know what you're thinking. What does the mythic story of Philomela's rape and transformation into a bird have to do with Valentine hanging out in the forest missing his girlfriend? Well, it can't be a coincidence that moments after Valentine mentions the nightingale, his pal Proteus tries to rape Silvia in the very same forest, can it? Keep reading…

Nay, if the gentle spirit of moving words
Can no way change you to a milder form,
I'll woo you like a soldier, at arms' end,
And love you 'gainst the nature of love—force you. (5.4.57-60)

Here, Proteus says that, if he can't transform Julia's feelings for him, then he'll resort to rape. It seems like Proteus has been transformed himself – into an animal. See "Quotes" for "Violence" if you want to know more about the attempted rape.

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)

Julia is pretty embarrassed that she had to resort to "chang[ing]" her "shape" (dressing as a boy) in order to chase down Proteus. But here, she tells Proteus that he should be even more "ashamed" by his infidelity ("chang[ing]" his "mind" about her and pursuing Silvia). Keep reading for Proteus's response to this…

'Than men their minds'? 'Tis true. O heaven, were
But constant, he were perfect; (5.4.118-120)

After Julia reveals her true identity as a woman and declares that it's worse for men to change "their minds" than for women to "change their shapes" (cross-dress), Proteus suddenly realizes that Julia is right about his behavior – he's been falling in and out of love and his inconstancy makes him flawed. Literary scholar Marjorie Garber points out that, at this moment in the play, Proteus's true nature is "unmasked" at the exact same time that Julia's true identity has been revealed (Shakespeare After All, 46).