Scene by Scene Synopsis
Scene: King's Park, Navarre, France
Act I, Scene 1: The King of Navarre proposes to dedicate himself and his courtiers to the pursuit of intellectual studies. He requires his three friends to sign an oath, searing off partying and the company of women for three years. Longaville and Domaine sign readily, but Berowne argues against such an arrangement. He point out a problem with forbidding the company of women, the Princess of France is scheduled to arrive shortly. The King agrees that she will have to be an exception. Dull, a constable, appears with Costard, a clown and delivers a comically rhetorical letter from Don Armado, a visiting Spaniard for pompous flamboyance is well known. The letter accuses Costard of speaking with Jaquenetta, contrary to the King's proclamation against consorting with women. The King sentences Costard to a week's diet of Bran and water to be overseen by Armado.
Act I, Scene 2: Armado and his page, Moth, exchange jabs at one another, The saucy page is quick to mock his master, who is too slow to notice. Armado confesses his love for Jaquenetta, but he feels ashamed of it because she is a common country girl. Costard, Dull, and Jaquenetta appear. Dull announces Costard's scheduled fast. Before Jaquenetta departs with Dull, Armado angrily sends Costard away to be imprisoned, in the custody of Moth, and soliloquizes ruefully on the power of love.
Act II, Scene 1: The Princess of France and her entourage arrive. In light of rumors concerning the King's vow to exclude women from his court, the Princess sends her adviser Boyet ahead to announce her approach. She talks with her waiting-women about the King of Navarre's courtiers, whom they have met before. Maria praises Longaville, Katharine admires Dumaine, and Rosaline is taken with Berowne. Boyet returns and announces that the King, who is arriving with his courtiers, plans to house the visiting women in tents outside the court, in accordance with his vows. The King and his courtiers arrive. The Princess upbraids the King for his poor hospitality, and she delivers a written message from her father. The courtiers converse with ladies. Berowne and Rosaline exchange witty remarks; she sharply parries his advances. The King apologizes for the accommodations he must provide because of his oath, and he and his retinue depart. Dumaine, Longaville, and Berowne each re-enter in turn to inquire of Boyet the name of the gentlewomen he has been conversing with.
Act III, Scene 1: Armado orders Moth to free Costard, who is to deliver a love letter to Jaquenetta. Moth goes, after teasing his master about his infatuation, and returns with Costard, who is given the letter. Berowne enters and commissions Costard to deliver a letter to Rosaline. Costard departs, and Berowne, in a soliloquy, despairs that he has been captured by love.
Act IV, Scene 1: Costard interrupts the Princess's deer-hunting party to deliver Berowne's letter to Rosaline. The Princess gleefully asks Boyet to open it and read it aloud. However, Costard has delivered the wrong letter, it is Armado's letter to Jaquenetta, and its preposterous style causes great glee.
Act IV, Scene 2: Holofernes a comically pedantic schoolmaster and his follower Nathanial discuss the dear hunt in absurdly scholastic terms, to the consternation of Dull. Jaquenetta appears with Costard, seeking a literate person to read her the letter she has received. Nathaniel reads it' it is a sonnet by Berowne intended for Rosaline. Holofernes realizes that it has been mistakenly delivered, and he instructs Jaquenetta to take it to the King for it may be important.
Act IV, Scene 3: Berowne, alone, again bemoans the fact that he is in love. He hides himself as the King approaches. The King reads a poem he has written and reveals that he too is in love. The King also hides when Longaville appears, and Longaville does the same thing hiding in his turn when Dumaine appears and also reads a love poem. As Dumaine finishes, Longaville comes forth to tease him, but the King in turn chastises them both for breaking their ascetic vows. Berowne comes forth to rebuke the King for hypocrisy, and he takes a superior attitude to them all until Jaquenetta arrives with his letter Rosaline. Admitting his love, Berowne then provides a rationale for romantic behavior. He says that their vows are unnatural for young men, and further, that love, superior to all else, should be their proper subject of study. The King and the other courtiers rejoice in his solution and lay plans for festive entertainments to help woo their intended lovers.
Act V, Scene 1: Armado, while bragging grandiloquently of his close relations with the King, announces that he has been asked to arrange a pageant to entertain the Princess. He consults with Holofernes, who proposes a presentation of the masque, "The Nine Worthies", a traditional tableau.
Act V, Scene 2: The Princess and their gentlewomen mock their suitors, comparing the gifts of jewelry and poems they have received. Boyet arrives to report that he has overheard the courtiers planning to approach the ladies disguised as a delegation of Russians. The Princess devises a counterplot: the ladies shall be masked, and shall each wear the jewelry given to another of them, so each suitor will address the wrong woman. The gentlemen enter, and the ladies teasingly refuse to dance with them. Each suitor then proceeds to take aside the wrong lady and profess his love. The women continue their, and soon the gentlemen beat a retreat. The ladies exult in their triumph. Shortly, the gentlemen return undisguised. The women tease the men further by jesting about the fools garbed as Russians that had been present earlier. The embarrassed gentlemen realize that the women had known them all along, and Berowne makes a confessional speech disavowing 'perjury'. The King, reaffirming his earlier vows of love, is perplexed when Rosaline claims to have received them, rather than the Princess. Berowne realizes what has happened and rails against Boyet as a spy and teller of tales.
Costard arrives, announcing that the pageant of "The Nine Worthies is about to begin. The noblemen heckle the commoners; they drive Nathaniel and then Holofernes from the stage. Costard, misunderstanding part of Armado's performance, breaks in and reveals that Jaquenetta is pregnant by the Spaniard. Armado and Costard are egged on towards a duel by the gentlemen, but Marcade appears with news of the death of the King of France, the Princess' Father. The emotional tone of the play changes instantly. The 'Worthies' are dismissed; the Princess prepares to depart and, in a new mood of sadness, apologizes to the King for the ridicule that she and her maids have used. The King, aided by Berowne, persists in courtship; the Princess responds by promising him her love only if her will adopt a severely monastic life for a year. Katharine and Maria also require a year's wait for Dumaine and Longaville. Rosaline, observing that Berowne has an excessively mocking wit, requires that he spend the same year visiting dying patients to learn a more proper seriousness. Armado returns and requests that the nobles hear the song intended to close the pageant. The assembled commoners the conclude the play with a song in 'praise of owl and cuckoo.'
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