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If I can cheque my erring love, I will; if not, to compass her I'll use my skill.
~ Proteus revealing his true colors.
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 ye. I'll force thee yield to my desire!
~ Proteus attempting to force himself on Silvia - his Villainous Breakdown.

Proteus is Valentine's fickle friend and a supporting protagonist in the first half, later the main antagonist in the second half of the 1590s Shakespeare play The Two Gentlemen of Verona. While initially in love with a woman named Julia, he later begins to obsess over Valentine's love interest, Silvia, provoking him to betray his best friend and even attempt to force himself upon Silvia in the end.

History

In the beginning of the play, Valentine, the adventurer, decides to travel abroad on a journey of self-improvement. Proteus, the more grounded sort, stays home in Verona, as he is looking to woo a certain Julia. After somberly saying goodbye, it is revealed that Proteus has had his servant Speed deliver a romantic letter to Julia.

Julia's maid, Lucetta, recommends Proteus as a man to fall in love with, and it is made clear that he is a respectable and chivalrous gentleman. Julia, who appears of rather unsound mind, freaks out and tears his letter in half, but immediately regrets it, chalking it up to her womanly whims.

Proteus's father, Antonio, decides to send his son to the court of the Duke in Milan, so that he can spend time with his friend Valentine. Proteus, now having found a budding romance, is not at all pleased with this decision, but has to comply nonetheless. He and Julia exchange rings on the day of his departure, and they promise each other that their love won't die out in the meantime.

Valentine has in the course of these developments fallen for the Duke's daughter, Silvia, who quite clearly returns his affections. She is set to marry the arrogant and incompetent Thurio by order of the Duke, so Valentine comes up with a plan to climb up to her window with a corded ladder and flee with her so they can get married in secret. The fearless man is happy to see his less-than-excited companion, Proteus, show up. 

Proteus is briefly introduced to Silvia, after which Valentine goes on to praise her and claim she is the fairest in the world. Slightly put off by this, Proteus tells him to stop and remember that Julia is also fair, but Valentine is too love-smitten to really listen. Instead, Valentine reveals his secret plot to his trusted friend.

When Proteus is by himself, he realizes he has stopped loving Julia and is now hellbent on having Silvia to himself. To this end, he betrays Valentine's plan to the Duke, causing his friend to be banished. Valentine gets picked up by a group of bandits and is unwillingly made their new leader.

Proteus tries to appear more attractive than Thurio and also hires the page Sebastian (secretly a disgusted Julia in disguise) to give Silvia the ring Julia had given him to curry favor with her. Silvia obviously wants nothing to do with Proteus and makes a getaway along with her friend Sir Eglamour into the forest, where she is captured by Valentine's witless bandits.

Proteus saves Silvia from the outlaws and deems himself worthy of her love. Silvia refuses still, and Proteus, now exceedingly desperate, states he's going to force himself on her, but is quickly taken down by Valentine who was watching the whole thing. Valentine reprimands Proteus for going against their friendship, and Proteus pitifully repents. He is forgiven by Valentine, and as soon as he realizes Sebastian was really Julia, he remembers his undying love for her.

Personality

As his name would suggest, Proteus is a man with frequently changing loyalties, interests and affection. Almost like a warped Romeo, he is ready to totally abolish his intense love for Julia the moment Silvia steps into his view. His one-track mind brings about a demented obstinancy - a terrible passion that only grows overtime. It comes to a head when he tries to force Silvia to "love him" in the very final confrontation.

Despite all this, he values his friendship above all; this is something he forgets for a majority of the play. When Valentine scolds him in the end he shows no direct remorse for the things he did to Silvia, but rather his betrayal to his lifelong comrade. He is also shown to be rather self-aware of his weak will, though he blames it more on the male sex as a whole.

Trivia

  • As The Two Gentlemen of Verona is widely regarded as Shakespeare earliest written play, Proteus can be considered the first Shakespeare villain ever created.
  • Proteus is named after the Greek god of the sea, alluding to the constant changing nature of both the sea and Proteus's personality.

Navigation

            William Shakespeare Name 2.png Villains

The Two Gentlemen of Verona
Proteus

Titus Andronicus
Aaron the Moor | Tamora | Chiron & Demetrius | Saturninus

Richard III
King Richard III

The Comedy of Errors
Antipholus of Ephesus

Romeo and Juliet
Lord Capulet | Tybalt | Paris

A Midsummer Night's Dream
Egeus

The Merchant of Venice
Shylock

Much Ado About Nothing
Don John | Borachio

Julius Caeser/Antony and Cleopatra
Antony | Cassius

As You Like It
Duke Frederick | Oliver

Hamlet
King Claudius

Twelfth Night
Malvolio

Measure for Measure
Angelo

Othello
Iago | Roderigo

King Lear
Edmund | Regan | Goneril | Duke of Cornwall

Macbeth
Macbeth | Lady Macbeth | Wyrd Sisters

The Tempest
Caliban | Sycorax | Setebos

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