Valentine sets off from Verona for Milan to see the world. Proteus stays at home because of his love for Julia. She is in love with him, but neither knows of the other's love until Lucetta shows Julia a love letter from Proteus. He is reading her reply when his father, Antonio, informs him of his decision to send him to the duke's court to join Valentine. The lovers take their leave and swear eternal constancy. In Milan, Proteus finds that Valentine has fallen in love with Silvia, the duke's daughter, and plans to elope with her to foil her father's plan to marry her to Turio. Valentine confides his plan to his friend but Proteus, infatuated with Silvia at first sight, betrays the plan to the duke and Valentine is banished from Milan. In the wilderness he encounters a band of outlaws and is elected their leader. Meanwhile Julia, disguised as Sebastian, has come to Milan in search of Proteus. Overhearing him declare his passion for Silvia, she is devastated but, under cover of her disguise, enters his service as a page. When Proteus sends her with a message to Silvia, Julia is encouraged to find that his advances are again rejected and that Silvia remains faithful to Valentine. Silvia escapes into the forest to join Valentine. The duke and Turio set out in pursuit, followed by Proteus and Julia. Silvia is captured by the outlaws but then rescued by Proteus who, seeing that she still spurns him, tries to force himself on her. Valentine intervenes and Proteus is forced to confront his act of betrayal. Julia reveals her identity and reconciliation begins.
In de Vere's Italian travels, records show he visited Milan and other cities. During his travels between cities, he probably visited Verona.
The lead characters Proteus and Valentine are alter egos of de Vere. Silvia is the daughter of the most powerful man, as was de Vere's wife Anne. The play stages de Vere's marital strife as a love triangle plot. In the play, Proteus and Valentine are close friends from Verona. Valentine and Silvia have fallen in love, but Proteus becomes infatuated with Silvia. Silvia asks Valentine to compose verses for her. In doing so, Valentine (de Vere) discovers that he writes for himself.
VALENTINE: Please you, I'll write Your Ladyship another.
SILVIA: And when it's writ, for my sake read it over,
And if it please you, so; if not, why, so.
VALENTINE: If it please me, madam? What then?
SILVIA: Why, if it please you, take it for your labour;
And so good morrow, servant.
Valentine's servant Speed notes:
SPEED: Excellent device, was there ever heard a better,
That my master, being scribe, to himself should write the letter.