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Silvia is the daughter of the Duke of Milan. She is the beloved of Valentine and is also courted by Thurio and Proteus. Shakespeare has lavishly adorned the portrayal of Silvia. Through what other characters say about her, the reader learns that she is a picture of perfection. She is noble, kind, gentle, witty, and beautiful. Valentine describes her as a celestial saint. Proteus is dazzled out of reason at her sight. Julia too admires Silvia because she is "a virtuous gentlewoman, mild and beautiful."
From the beginning, Silvia is devoutly in love with Valentine, so much so that she plans to elope with him against her father's plans for her. Silvia is gentle and submissive by nature, but she does not allow even her father to take advantage of her submissiveness. When Valentine is banished and her father decides to give her away in marriage to Thurio, she undertakes a journey to Mantua, the place where Valentine now resides.
Silvia scorns Proteus not only for being a disloyal friend but for being an unfaithful lover to Julia. When Proteus pleads his suit to her, she takes the opportunity to remind him of Julia. When Proteus sends her a ring, the one Julia had given to him, Silvia refuses to accept it. When the treacherous Proteus rescues her from the bandits, she tells him she would rather have been eaten by lions.
Shakespeare creates a very vibrant character in Silvia, but he shortchanges her at the end of the play. In his rush to tie up all the loose ends of all the problems in the final scene, the dramatist deals unsatisfactorily with Silvia. She endures Proteus' coarse behavior and then listens to Valentine offer her up to the betrayer. She stands silently and uncharacteristically in the background. Instead, she reconciles with Valentine without a word of criticism about his actions and seems delighted that her father agrees to her union with him.
Speed and Launce are the "clownish servants" of Valentine and Proteus respectively. Launce is one of Shakespeare's great comic achievements. Along with his dog Crab, he brings total comic enjoyment to the play. In Launce's monologues with Crab, "the sourest natured dog that lives," his clownish character is given full expression; but Launce proves his friendship to Crab when, to save Crab's hide, he takes the blame for Silvia's stolen capon leg.
Speed is Valentine's pert page. He points out to Valentine that he exhibits signs of having fallen in love with Silvia and advises against it. He also makes assumptions about Silvia's character that are proven inaccurate. When Valentine is banished, Speed accompanies him to the forest and pleads with him to join the outlaws as their leader.
Throughout the play, the two servants banter with one another, often in a bawdy manner characteristic of their "low" status. Their chatter, however, provides the humor and comic relief for the entire play.