Julia sits alone with Lucetta. Julia asks Lucetta to counsel her on how to fall in love. Lucetta replies that she should fall in love carefully, and not be caught by surprise. Julia lists all of her suitors for Lucetta, and asks Lucetta to pick for her the one she thinks most worthy of her love. Lucetta tells Julia that her womanly instincts draw her to Proteus more than to any of the other suitors. Lucetta's choice surprises Julia--Proteus has never confronted Julia about his love for her. Lucetta replies that the "Fire that's closest kept burns most of all"--secret loves are the most passionate (I.ii.30).
Lucetta confesses to Julia that she accepted a letter from Proteus delivered by Speed, and that when she did so, she was pretending to be Julia. Julia's temper flares, not at this usurpation of her identity, but rather at Lucetta for harboring this scandalous letter. Julia says that all modest, proper maids would refuse to read such a letter, and angrily sends Lucetta away. Julia immediately regrets her decision and calls Lucetta back with silly questions about what time they will eat dinner. Julia requests that Lucetta sing her Proteus' letter. But after another squabble with Lucetta, Julia is so irked that she tears up the letter. Lucetta exits, and Julia mourns the torn pieces of paper, reading words of love on separate scraps.
Antonio and his manservant, Panthino, discuss Proteus' future. Antonio asks Panthino if he thinks it wise to send Proteus to the emperor's court in Milan, where Valentine lodges. Panthino advises Antonio to send his son away, explaining that Proteus will fulfill his noble birth by partaking in courtly society. Antonio likes Panthino's idea so much that he resolves to send Proteus to Milan the next day.
Antonio seeks out Proteus to tell him the good news, and discovers him reading a letter. The letter is from Julia, confessing her mutual love for Proteus and her desire to marry him. Proteus, however, lies to his father, telling him that the letter is a joyous report from Valentine expressing Valentine's wish for Proteus to join him in Milan. Antonio announces that Proteus will depart the next day for the emperor's court in Milan. Proteus is devastated by this development, but his father will not be dissuaded. Proteus laments that he was not brave enough to show Julia's letter to his father, and agonizes over leaving his beloved.
Shakespeare designed his plays to appeal to both the upper and lower classes, and his exploration of the close master-servant relationship allows him to portray characters at opposite ends of the spectrum of social status. The heavy reliance of Julia and Antonio on the wisdom of their respective servants would have bolstered the egos of his proletarian audience. Although the play may be about two gentlemen, their servants are crucial to these gentlemen and their families. Julia's dependence on her maid is similar to that of Juliet on her nurse in
Julia's indecision over whether or not to read Proteus' letter reflects the rigid social structure of the Elizabethan era. As will become clear later in the play, it is acceptable for men to behave badly and transgress social expectations, whereas such behavior in women meets with strong disapproval. Women must vigilantly guard their respectability so as to maintain their status as pure maidens. Consequently, Julia's desire for Proteus is in conflict with her desire to conform to standards of socially acceptable behavior. Julia's soliloquy represents one of the most beautiful speeches in the play, and offers a lovely glimpse of Shakespeare toying with his own concepts of literary criticism and the writer's craft. Just as Julia pieces together the scraps of Proteus' note, sighing over the bits of a lover's language, so too does the playwright piece together rich words so that plot strands may take shape and grow into a cohesive whole (I.ii.101-126).