Summary: Act 4: Scenes 3 & 4

Silvia calls upon Sir Eglamour, a friend, to help her escape her "most unholy match" to the detested Thurio (IV.iii.30). She yearns to reunite with Valentine but knows she cannot travel to Mantua alone. Eglamour is a safe chaperone for Silvia, as he has taken a vow of chastity since the death of his beloved wife. Silvia and Eglamour make plans to meet the following day at Friar Patrick's cell.

Launce describes his visit to the Duke's dining chamber to deliver Crab as a gift to Silvia. Launce and Crab are in the room not longer than a "piss-/ing while" when Crab urinates on the floor (IV.iv.16-17). The Duke calls his servants to beat the dog, but because Launce loves the dog so dearly, he claims that he himself urinated on the floor, and takes the beating in place of Crab.

Proteus meets Sebastian/Julia and takes an immediate liking to the seeming page. He asks Sebastian to deliver a ring to Silvia—the ring that Julia gave Proteus at his departure. Greatly vexed at Proteus' infidelity, Julia sighs that she "cannot be true servant to my master/Unless I prove false traitor to myself" (IV.iv.97-98). Sebastian goes to Silvia's chamber to deliver the ring and collect Silvia's portrait. Silvia expresses her dislike for Proteus, especially when she realizes that the ring originally belonged to Julia. Sebastian thanks Silvia for being sympathetic to Julia's wronged love. Intrigued, Silvia asks Sebastian if he knew Julia. Sebastian replies that he was very close to Julia, and even once wore one of her dresses for a pageant at Pentecost. Silvia departs, and Julia compares herself to the picture of Silvia, believing that her looks are better Silvia's.

Read a translation of Act 4: Scenes 3 & 4.

Analysis: Act 4: Scenes 3 & 4

Launce's devotion to his dog, though humorous, provides an important foil to the unfeeling attitudes of Proteus and the Duke. Proteus seeks only to satisfy his own desires, at the expense of others' emotions; likewise, the Duke ignores his daughter's protestations, wanting to marry her off for the greatest financial advantage possible. For Launce, on the other hand, his friendship with Crab entirely outweighs any cares about himself or his social status, enabling him to humiliate himself publicly.

Though Launce's diction is neither elegant nor poetic, his speeches represent the most developed use of language in the play. Whereas the other characters' monologues seem stilted, Launce's words flow naturally in the form of bawdy tales and hilarious encounters with his dog. Launce's gleeful speech about Crab's urinating in the dining room instances Shakespeare's ability to contain a cacophony of storytelling voices in one monologue: three servants, the Duke, and Launce all have a voice in Launce's story.

The encounter between Silvia and Julia is significant in that it marks the first time that two characters express and share concern about others: both are simultaneously outraged at the philandering Proteus and worried about the abandoned Julia. In discussing such important concepts as friendship and romantic love, the two women are able to relate to each other, despite the fact that Julia views Silvia as her rival.

Silvia and Julia trade objects (Julia's ring and Silvia's picture) and stories just as Valentine and Proteus will ultimately trade women. The interaction between these two women is far more meaningful than the slapdash rush of the play's ending, in which the play's intended couples are hastily paired up again, allows. A feminist reading of the play would interpret the bond of female friendship (despite Julia's disguise) as the most important, enduring, and under-developed aspect of the play. Silvia and Julia are both resourceful women who take risks in order to be reunited with the men they love. Neither betrays her man (Julia sublimates herself in order to be true to her love, forcing herself to withstand the discomfort of helping the man she loves woo another woman), and each remains true to the other woman as well: Silvia in her sympathy for Julia, and Julia, as Sebastian, in her unwillingness to drag Silvia into Proteus's web of treachery and betrayal.