Antonio is Proteus’s father. He has a minor role, appearing only in Act 1, scene 3, in which he decides, at the suggestion of his brother, to send Proteus to Milan to give him more knowledge of the world. Antonio does not appear to have been a very assertive father, since he has allowed Proteus to stay at home all these years rather than sending him out into the wider world to better himself.
The Duke of Milan is the father of Silvia. He plans to marry her off to the wealthy Thurio but is aware that she is in love with Valentine, so he keeps the key to Silvia’s bedroom to prevent Valentine going there. The Duke is something of a tyrant; he plans to punish Silvia for her insubordination by turning her out of the house. A widower himself, he has plans to marry a young woman, and he asks Valentine for help in wooing her. When he discovers that Valentine and Silvia are planning to elope, he immediately gets furious and banishes Valentine from Milan. However, when in the final scene Thurio proves too cowardly to fight Valentine for Silvia, the Duke forgives Valentine and bestows his daughter on him.
Sir Eglamour is a widower and a friend of Silvia. He agrees to accompany Silvia to Mantua for her own safety. However, when they are attacked by the outlaws in the forest, Eglamour runs away.
Host is the owner of the inn where Julia stays when she arrives in Milan.
Julia is a beautiful young woman who is courted by many. At first she does not care much for Proteus, and plays hard-to-get, acting erratically and impulsively. But Proteus’s ardor for her soon overcomes her resistance. When Julia falls in love, she loves constantly, without any reservations or doubts. When Proteus leaves for Milan, she promises to be faithful to him, and gives him a ring so that he may remember her. Julia, unlike her lover, keeps her word. Some while later, she travels to Milan disguised as a boy to visit Proteus, convinced that he will still love her. What she finds there breaks her heart; Proteus is in love with Silvia and is telling her that his old love, Julia, is dead. Julia continues to love Proteus, however, and when Proteus employs her as his page (she is disguised as Sebastian, a boy) she agrees, albeit reluctantly, to woo Silvia on behalf of Proteus. At the end of the play Julia gets her reward. She reveals to Proteus who she really is and rebukes him for his conduct, and he finally comes to his senses and acknowledges that Julia is his true love.
Launce is Proteus’s servant. He is a comic character who has little affection or respect for Proteus. He and Valentine’s servant Speed often comment in unflattering terms on their masters’ love affairs. Launce owns a dog called Crab which he is very fond of. He hates to leave the dog behind in Mantua to go with his master to Milan. Launce is also is pursuing a love interest of his own. He is in love with a milkmaid, but he has a far more rational approach to this affair of the heart than the main characters do in their love affairs, making a written list of the woman’s faults and virtues.
Lucetta is Julia’s waiting-woman. She is influential in persuading Julia to love Proteus, saying that he is by far the worthiest of her suitors.
The three outlaws live in the forest between Milan and Mantua and abduct travelers. They seize Valentine and Speed but are so impressed by Valentine that they make him their leader. The outlaws are themselves gentlemen who for various reasons have been exiled from their hometowns. In the final scene they are all pardoned by the Duke.
Panthino is Antonio’s servant. Antonio trusts him and takes his advice to send Proteus to Milan.
Proteus is a young man, a friend of Valentine. He is young and inexperienced and his character does not stand up well to the tests that he faces in life. Initially he is in love with Julia and spares no effort in pursuing her. But after he is sent by his father to Milan, he falls in love with Silvia and forgets all about Julia. He is so besotted with Silvia, who is in love with his friend Valentine, that he thinks nothing of betraying Valentine, as well as Julia, in his pursuit of his new love, who does not care for him in the least. When Proteus is in the grip of love, no stratagem is too dishonorable or devious for him. At the end of the play, however, when Valentine confronts him with his misdeeds, Proteus is contrite and asks for forgiveness, which Valentine grants. Proteus then realizes that he really does love Julia after all, and she, astonishingly, still loves him, so the two are reunited.
Silvia is the daughter of the Duke of Milan. She is beautiful and has no difficulty attracting men. It seems that all the men fall in love with her almost as soon as they see her. She is courted by Thurio, whom she does not take seriously, and Valentine, with whom she falls in love, and later by Proteus, whom she scorns. Her relationship with her father is cool, since he wants her to marry Thurio, and she is so determined to defy him that she agrees to elope with Valentine. In the forest she is captured by outlaws and freed by Proteus, but she still refuses to accept him. In the end, she gets her desire, being reunited with Valentine.
Speed is Valentine’s servant. He is a quick-witted, devious character who is not above telling a few small lies to enrich himself. He will not tell Proteus, for example, about how Proteus’s letter was received by Julia until Proteus gives him some money, and then he proceeds to lie to Proteus about what happened.
Thurio is a wealthy but foolish gentleman who tries to court Silvia. He is therefore a rival to Valentine. Silvia’s father favors Thurio because he is rich, and the Duke wants his daughter to marry him. However, Silvia cannot stand Thurio; there is no way in which she will agree to marry him. Thurio is always the butt of jokes; the other characters feel free to insult and belittle him. Valentine mocks him, and when Proteus pursues Silvia, he finds it easy to trick Thurio, intending to eliminate him as a rival. Even Julia, in her disguise as Sebastian, joins in the fun by mocking Thurio in some asides. Thurio eventually reveals himself to be a coward when he refuses to fight Valentine to win Silvia.
Valentine is a noble and handsome young man, a close friend of Proteus. At the beginning of the play, he is about to set off for Milan, and he mocks the stay-at-home Proteus for falling in love with Julia. He thinks love is a foolish thing. But when Valentine meets Silvia, it does not take long for him to feel the same emotions himself. Fortunately for him, the lady he falls in love with quickly returns his feelings. Valentine then has to use all his wits to outmaneuver Silvia’s father, the Duke, who likes Valentine but wants his daughter to marry Thurio. When Valentine’s plot to elope with Silvia is discovered, he is exiled by the Duke. In the forest Valentine is captured by outlaws, but they are so impressed by his manner, his education (he speaks several languages) and his overall qualities of leadership that they ask him to become their leader. As the plot is finally resolved, Valentine shows his magnanimous qualities. Showing how much he values friendship, he forgives Proteus for the wrongs he suffered at the hands of his friend, and offers to give Silvia to Proteus. Fortunately, Proteus realizes that he is really in love with Julia, which means that Valentine is not required to follow through with his generous gesture.