Servants often serve as clowns in Shakespeare’s works, and the two servants for the gentlemen of Verona “are young, full of humor, and fond of mischief,” according to Frederick Ward in The Fools of Shakespeare. “Both are shrewd and keenly observant, particularly of the foibles and weaknesses of their masters.”
While their masters claim to be the best of friends, Proteus, who has already promised himself to Julia, falls instantly in love with Valentine’s beloved Silvia. Then Proteus sets out to betray Valentine, claiming: “At first I did adore a twinkling star,/But now I worship a celestial sun…”
Speed, servant to Valentine, does not always live up to his name in action but is often quick-witted in understanding things his master does not. Launce, servant to Proteus, is forced to leave home to accompany Proteus in his travels.
With loyalty to his betrothed and his best friend cast aside, Proteus is outclassed by Launce, who was so torn at leaving home he brings along his beloved pet dog, Crab. Although Launce lavishes attention and affection on Crab, the dog hardly seems to notice.
Throughout theatre history, many actors who played the role of Launce in The Two Gentleman of Verona have had to prove their acting chops to play against the role of Crab the dog — while a dog only has to lie there and be a dog to throw the audience into fits of laughter.
Even in Shakespeare’s time, every dog had its day.