The King of Navarre, and his three friends, Berowne, Longaville and Dumaine, all swear themselves to three years of study, abstaining from all distractions, particularly of the female kind, with only Armado, and Costard to entertain them. They are confounded, on signing the vow, when Berowne remembers that the Princess of France and her three ladies, Rosaline, Maria, and Katharine, attended by Boyet, are on an embassy to Navarre’s court.
Armado, has decided to arrest Costard for being in the company of a woman—the woman being Jaquenetta, who Armado himself is in love with. The ladies arrive, and the King and his lords fall in love with them. Armado frees Costard on condition he delivers a note to Jaquenetta; Berowne charges Costard with a letter to Rosaline; and the two letters get mixed up.
The four lords enter one by one and despair about their love for their particular woman, and one by one are overheard by the others. They decide to tear the oath up, and woo the ladies. They disguise themselves as Russians, but Boyet tells the ladies beforehand, and the ladies change identities with each other. The lords enter, and woo the wrong women. They leave, and on their return are mocked by the ladies.
Armado then approaches the schoolmaster Holofernes and curate Nathaniel to join with him, Costard, and the page, Mote, to present the Nine Worthies as entertainment to the nobles. This provides them with many opportunities for comment and laughter. The mood changes when Marcade brings news that the Princess’s father has died. As the ladies prepare to leave, the lords affirm that all their expressions of love were genuine, but the Princess claims that everything was in jest. The ladies tell the lords that, if they are serious, they must carry out certain tasks for a year, and then return to offer marriage. The lords agree. Armado then presents the learned men in a dialogue between the owl and the cuckoo, representing winter and spring, by way of conclusion.
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