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Act III, Scene 1
Proteus betrays Valentine's elopement to Silvia's father, the Duke. Proteus begins his artful speech to the Duke, feigning difficulty in deciding to reveal the news:
The Law of friendship bids me to conceal; But, when I can to mind your gracious favors Done to me, understanding as I am, My duty pricks me on to utter that Which else no worldly good should draw from me.
Proteus further explains how Valentine means to conceal the ladder of ropes under his long cloak and "how he her chamber window will ascend and with a corded ladder fetch her down." Since the Duke is determined that his daughter marry Thurio, he resolves to lock Silvia up in an upper tower of the palace in order to protect her.
The Duke awaits the coming of Valentine, and when he sees him, instead of confronting him about the intended elopement, he engages in tricking his young guest. The Duke tells Valentine that he is in love with a lady who is "lock'd and keys kept safe. That no man had recourse to her by night." In response to the Duke's request for advice, Valentine proposes that he should hide a ladder of ropes under his cloak, with which he can climb his lady's tower. When the Duke asks for Valentine's cloak, his love letter to Silvia and the ladder of ropes are discovered. After upbraiding Valentine for his ingratitude, the Duke banishes him on pain of death. Valentine bemoans his fate and says, "And why not death rather than living torment?"
Proteus strolls back on to the scene to comfort Valentine. He entreats his friend to accept banishment and promises to deliver Valentine's letters to Silvia. Without further complaint, Valentine sighs and leaves.
To conclude the scene, Speed and Launce again engage in bawdy banter. They humorously discuss the credentials of Launce's beloved, a milkmaid. Launce carries an itemized list of her merits with him at all times.
The despicable nature of Proteus is clearly developed in this scene. He reveals the entire plan of Valentine's elopement to the Duke, and pretends he is honorable in so doing in the process. The Duke is now more determined than ever to see Silvia married to Thurio, who the Duke prefers for his wealth and social status. To guarantee Silvia's safety, he locks her in an upper tower. He then tricks Valentine into confessing the elopement. Valentine answers all of the Duke's questions, eager to please the father of his beloved. He falls into the Duke's trap and is caught with the ladder hidden under his cloak. As a result, Valentine is immediately banished from Milan. Even when Valentine is suffering the news of his banishment, he still produces poetry that is beautiful and full of love: "Light is not light, if Silvia cannot be seen and joy is not joy if Silvia is not by his side."
The treacherous Proteus reappears on the scene to hypocritically comfort Valentine. He assures his friend that time will heal his wounds. He also promises to deliver all of Valentine's letters to Silvia, a promise that the audience does not believe.
Credentials are very important in Elizabethan society, as proven by the Duke's choosing of Thurio based upon his social status. Launce and Speed are also concerned with the milkmaid's credentials, for they want to make certain she is a worthy candidate for Launce's love. Their conversation about her, as if she were a commodity, is humorous and bawdy. In the end, Launce is most impressed with her, for she has some money.