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Betrayal vs constancy forms the main theme of the play. The Two Gentlemen of Verona opens with two close friends, Valentine and Proteus, expressing their mutual admiration for one another while exhibiting their varied interests. Proteus, intensely in love with Julia, is rooted to Verona; on the other hand, Valentine is fancy free and eager to travel and explore the wonders of the world. The two gentleman pledge their friendship to one another in spite of their separation. Valentine then departs for the Duke's court in Milan. Ironically, Proteus soon goes to Milan as well, at the insistence of his father. He sadly leaves Verona after pledging his constant love to Julia.
Once in Milan, there is a transformation in the characters of both the gentlemen. Valentine falls deeply in love with Silvia, the daughter of the Duke. He woos her, wins her love, and plans to elope with her. When Proteus arrives in Milan, he also falls in love with Silvia, breaking his pledge of faithfulness to both Valentine and Julia.
Proteus becomes the villain the moment he covets Silvia. His subsequent behavior, however, is the ultimate betrayal of friendship. When Valentine confides in his friend his plans to elope with Silvia, the evil Proteus sees an opportunity to get rid of Valentine and further his own pursuit of Silvia. Proteus, who is completely aware of the outcome of his actions, betrays Valentine's plan to elope with Silvia to the Duke. As Proteus has anticipated, the Duke banishes Valentine, clearing the path for Proteus to make his next move. Silvia, however, is a constant lover. She rejects Proteus' advances and follows Valentine, her true love, to the forest. Proteus, unwilling to give up easily, pursues Silvia to the forest.
Proteus' betrayal is in sharp contrast to the constancy exhibited by the other characters in the play. Julia remains constant to him in spite of his deceitfulness. Valentine also faithfully honors their friendship and quickly forgives Proteus of his betrayal. Valentine also displays his constancy in his love for Silvia. In a like manner, Silvia remains faithful to Valentine, following him to the forest, risking her own life, and incurring her father's wrath for his sake. Sir Eglamour has remained constant to the memory of his true love, who died at an early age. Even the comic Launce is faithful to his friend Speed and his dog Crab.
Against the background of such faithfulness found throughout the play, Proteus' breeches of faith are made to seem even more evil and despicable. Through him, Shakespeare clearly points out the villainy of betrayal in love and friendship.