Valentine, a young gentleman of Verona about to depart on a voyage to Milan, is unable to persuade his intimate friend, Proteus, to leave his beloved Julia and accompany him on his journey. Proteus’s father, Antonio, ignorant of his son’s love affair, insists that Proteus further his education in the world beyond Verona and sends him off to follow Valentine. Before departing, Proteus exchanges rings and vows of love with Julia.
Valentine arrives in Milan and falls in love with Sylvia, daughter of the duke of Milan. Sylvia returns Valentine’s love, but her father doesn’t approve. Proteus, soon arrives at court, meets Sylvia, and, instantly forgetting Julia, also falls madly in love. To escape from Sir Thurio, her father’s choice for her, Sylvia plans to elope with Valentine. Unaware that Proteus also loves Sylvia, Valentine and Sylvia tell him their plans. He immediately decides to inform the duke of the plot, hoping thereby to have Valentine banished and thus to have a better chance at winning Sylvia for himself.
Meanwhile, Julia, unaware of unfolding events in Milan, arranges to travel there in disguise, hoping to be reunited with Proteus.
After Proteus tells the duke how the lovers are going to make use of a rope ladder to escape that very night, the duke catches Valentine and banishes him from Milan. He then asks Proteus to aid Thurio in obtaining favor with Sylvia; Proteus accepts this opportunity to press his own suit. On his way from Milan, the banished Valentine is captured in a forest on the borders of Mantua by outlaws, who make him their chief.
Back in Milan, Sylvia scorns Proteus’s attentions. Dressed as a page, Julia arrives in time to overhear Proteus proclaiming to Sylvia that his former love is dead. She exclaims to herself that while she may be dead, she is not yet buried and vows to win Proteus back by becoming, unknown to Proteus, his disguised page. Proteus sends his new “page,” to Sylvia with a betrothal ring and a letter asking for Sylvia’s picture in exchange. Sylvia, still in love with Valentine, scorns the offerings, and learning that the “page” knows Julia, demands a detailed description of her.
With the aid of the faithful Sir Eglamour, Sylvia escapes from Milan in search of Valentine. In the forest she is captured by outlaws and then rescued by Proteus, who takes advantage of the situation to press his unwelcome attentions on her again. Valentine, who is thinking over his present situation and dreaming of his lady love, hears her voice, and, rescuing her from Proteus, reviles his former friend for his conduct. Proteus, suddenly realizing his contemptible actions, repents and is forgiven. The “page” reveals her identity to Proteus, who, repenting his inconstancy, returns to his first love.
The duke and Thurio, now in the forest in search of Sylvia, are captured and brought to Valentine by the outlaws. In the spirit of reconciliation, Valentine uses his authority as leader of the outlaws to free the duke, who then in turn sanctions Valentine’s suit for Sylvia, for whom Thurio relinquishes his claim. The outlaws are pardoned, and they all return to Milan.