Discuss the importance of the servant-master relationship.
Subversive and socially uncomfortable discussions are placed in the mouths of the servants, who take charge of dealing with such tension-ridden subjects as non-standard sexuality, status via wealth, and the treachery of the upper classes. The servants also act as foils to their masters, helping illustrate their respective masters' attributes. Launce loves his dog Crab so much that he takes a beating for the dog's ill-bred behavior. His master, Proteus, on the other hand, is unable to commit to Julia, casting aside his emotions for her when he catches sight of Silvia. Lucetta, concerned about the practical emotions of marriage, maintains a pragmatic approach to love, while Julia naïvely lets her passionate emotions control her.
How does Julia's disguise affect her gender identity?
Julia disguises herself in order to visit Proteus in Milan, and by assuming a male sexual persona (embodied by her wearing of a codpiece), gains access to the male world. Her willingness to stray from sixteenth-century standards of female propriety demonstrates her love and devotion to Proteus, in addition to her discomfort with the restrictions that her society imposes on her as a woman. Julia's fear that Proteus may be cheating on her is grounded in the fact that such wanton behavior in males was socially acceptable in the Elizabethan era; this understanding of the gender expectations of her social milieu staves off the fate common to women of Julia's era--that of being hoodwinked by a deceitful lover.
What is the role of the forest in this play? Can you compare it to settings in any other texts, Shakespearean or otherwise?
The greenwood, not unlike the strange forest in A Midsummer Night's Dream, represents a place where sexual norms and class structure are suspended. Proteus' attempted rape of Silvia, which would never have occurred in her father's house, sheds light on the forest as a place in which individuals engage in behavior that runs counter to social norms. Further, Sebastian reveals that he is Julia in disguise, yet Proteus finds himself attracted to her even while she is still disguised, suggesting a latent homosexuality. Social mobility becomes possible in the forest, as Valentine, whose lesser nobility keeps him from being permitted into the Duke's inner circle, is granted status as king of the outlaws. The Duke later transforms him into a respected aristocrat, in the same forest, when he dubs him "Sir Valentine," unsettling preconceived notions of a well-defined class structure.