Act 5, scene 4
Valentine, alone, speaks of how he prefers being alone in the forest to dealing with the crowds in the town. He hopes soon to be reunited with Silvia. He hears voices approaching and realizes his companions are returning with someone they have captured. He decides to conceal himself for a while.
The new arrivals turn out to be Proteus, Silvia, and the disguised Julia. Proteus is pleading with Silvia that since he rescued her, she should give him at least a kind glance. Concealed, Valentine listens in amazement.
Silvia laments how unhappy she is, and Julia/Sebastian, in an aside, mentions how unhappy she is, also. Silvia continues, saying that she would sooner be eaten by a lion than rescued by Proteus, and she tells him to go away. When Proteus protests, she reminds him of how he deserted Julia. Proteus responds by threatening to take her by force, at which point Valentine comes forward and denounces Proteus, saying he will never trust him again. Chastened, Proteus confesses his guilt and shame, and asks to be forgiven.
Valentine forgives him and offers him Silvia, at which Julia/Sebastian faints. When she recovers she says that her master Proteus asked her to deliver a ring to Silvia, which she has forgotten to do. She shows Proteus the ring, and he realizes that it is the same one he gave to Julia. When he inquires as to how this can be, Julia sheds her disguise and says that he should be ashamed of what she was forced to do for love of him. Proteus expresses regret for his own inconstancy and realizes that Julia is the woman he should be with. Valentine takes their hands, and they promise themselves to each other.
The Duke, Thurio, and the outlaws enter. Valentine greets them, and Thurio lays claim to Silvia. Valentine tells him not to go near her, and Thurio backs down. The Duke despises Thurio for giving up so easily, and is reconciled to Valentine, whom he declares to be worthy of his daughter. Valentine asks that the outlaws be forgiven and allowed to return from exile. The Duke duly pardons them. Valentine then says he will tell the Duke about the page, “Sebastian” and Proteus. He promises that there will be a double marriage on the same day, “One feast, one house, one mutual happiness.”
The play ends as a comedy should, with multiple marriages. All is harmony and reconciliation, with even the much-mocked Thurio accepting the way things turn out, and the outlaws being pardoned. Everyone is included in the happy ending. Valentine’s willingness to give his love, Silvia, to his friend Proteus, is an astonishing affirmation of the power and the ideal of male friendship. Valentine, remember, has just witnessed Proteus’s declaration that he will rape Silvia if she does not give herself to him of her own free will. Valentine’s willingness to forgive the huge offenses committed by his errant friend is a declaration that friendship between men has a higher value than romantic love between a man and a woman, thus answering the question that was first posed at the very beginning of the play. Feminists might note how unfortunate it is to be a woman in this situation, subject to be being presented to any man by the man who believes that he owns her. We may also think that Proteus deserves neither Valentine’s forgiveness nor Julia’s love, but since this is a comedy everything must end happily, and at least we can reflect that Proteus’s former extreme villainy effectively sets off the generosity of Valentine and the constant love of Julia. The worse the offenses, the greater is the love needed to forgive them.