From Stories of Shakespeare’s Comedies by Helene Adeline Guerber. New York: Dodd, Mead and company (1910).
The first act opens in the park of the King of Navarre. He enters upon the scene announcing he has decided to lead the contemplative life hereafter, with three friends, who have sworn to share his studies for the next three years. During this time ‘Navarre shall be the wonder of the world,’ and his court ‘a little Academe, still and contemplative in living art.’ One of these noblemen, Longaville, fancies that during that time ‘the mind shall banquet, though the body pine,’ Dumain, that he will enjoy ‘living in philosophy,’ while the third, Biron, deems it will be easy to study that length of time, but that the stipulations not to speak to women, to fast, and never to sleep more, than three hours a night, will prove ‘barren tasks, too hard to keep.’
The king, however, assures him that, having joined his company, he will have to keep the oath, although Biron objects it was taken merely in jest. He declares his private study shall henceforth be how to feast when told to fast, how to meet some lady fair, and wittily demonstrates that such is the aim and end of all study. His humorous retorts to royal objections fill up the greater part of the scene, the remarks exchanged bristling with witty epigrams, wherein the poet’s talent is freely displayed. Seeing his principal companion has turned restive, the king finally suggests that Biron leave them to their studies, whereupon the latter rejoins he will remain with them, and sign the paper the king produces. Before doing so, however, he reads aloud the peculiar item, ‘that no woman shall come within a mile of my court,’ a decree published four days ago under penalty that any woman drawing near the palace will lose her tongue. The second item is that any man seen talking to a woman during the next three years will have to undergo such punishment as his companions decree.
When Biron hints the king himself will be the first to break this rule, since the French King’s daughter is on her way to consult with him in regard to the cession of Aquitane, Navarre admits he forgot that fact when the paper was drawn up, and that there will have to be an exception made in the princess’ favour. Hearing his royal master plead necessity, Biron sagely remarks, ‘Necessity will make us all forsworn three thousand times within this three years’ space, for every man with his affects is born!’ Nevertheless, he signs the decree, and states that, although he seems ‘so loath,’ he is confident he will be ‘the last that will last keep his oath!’
When he inquires what recreation is to be granted, the king explains how Armado, a refined traveller from Spain, who ‘hath a mint of phrases in his brain,’ will delight them with tales of his native country. Hearing this, Biron seems to be satisfied, but the others frankly admit their chief amusement will be derived from Costard, the rustic. Just then, this man is brought in by the constable Dull, who also delivers to the king a letter from Armado. While his majesty is reading it, Costard informs Biron how he was caught with Jaquenetta in the park, and that, although ‘ it is the manner of a man to speak to a woman,’ he is now to be punished for it.
The king next proceeds to read aloud his letter, wherein, with much wordy circumlocution, Armado describes how he found Costard — whom he honours with epithets the rustic acknowledges as applicable to him — talking ‘with a child of our grandmother Eve, a female!’ The letter concludes with the statement that the swain is sent in the constable’s custody to the king to be judged, Armado meanwhile keeping the other delinquent in his house ready to produce her at the king’s request. This reading finished, his majesty begins to cross-question Costard, who admits speaking to a woman, although he insists he did not thereby infringe the law, as it declared any one taken with a ‘wench’ would be arrested! The rustic claims that a virgin, damsel, or maid, is not a ‘wench,’ an excuse the king refuses to accept. He, therefore, decrees that in punishment. Costard shall fast a week on bran and water, Biron himself delivering him over to Armado, who is to act as keeper during that space of time. Then the king leaves the scene with two of his friends, while Biron lingers to exclaim he is ready to wager his head ‘these oaths and laws will prove an idle scorn.’ This assurance Costard echoes, stating he is suffering for truth’s sake ere Dull leads him away.
The next scene is played on the same spot, where Armado is bidding his pupil Moth tell him what it portends when a man grows melancholy. Then the two indulge in a duel of repartee, wherein they parade their wit and learning. After calling for an explanation of almost every term Moth uses, Armado finally reveals he has promised to study three years with the king, but has already broken his promise by falling deeply in love with a lowly maiden. To comfort himself, he has his disciple recapitulate the names of the world’s great lovers, and describe the charms of their lady-loves. Still, Armado avers all pale before the ‘white and red’ of his own charmer, in whose toils he is completely caught. Next, still hoping to divert his thoughts, the master invites the pupil to sing, but before the song can begin several persons draw near.
Among them we see the constable Dull, who reports the king has sent Costard to Armado to be detained a prisoner, and has decreed that Jaquenetta shall remain in the park as dairy-maid. This news pleases Armado, who arranges to visit his new sweetheart at the lodge, ere he dismisses her and Dull. Then, he entrusts Costard’s keeping to Moth, and when they have gone off together, indulges in a soliloquy in regard to his passion for Jaquenetta, for whose sake he is forsworn, and in whose honour he proposes to indite a sonnet.
The second act opens before the same park, just as the Princess of France and her train arrive on the scene. The chamberlain, Boyet, now bids his mistress pluck up spirit, as her father has sent her hither to obtain from the King of Navarre the restoration of Aquitaine. The princess, however, deeming this task beyond her strength, dreads it, for she counts little upon her physical charms. Besides, she has heard it rumoured Navarre has withdrawn from society for three years of silent study, during which no woman will be allowed to approach his court! Not daring to brave such a decree herself, the princess sends her chamberlain into the park, to inform the King of Navarre that the daughter of the King of France is waiting at his gates for an interview, ‘on serious business, craving quick dispatch.’
A moment later, his majesty appears with his three companions and train, and gallantly bids the fair French princess welcome to his court of Navarre, When the princess, in return, ironically welcomes him ‘to the wide fields,’ the king explains with embarrassment that he has sworn an oath he cannot break. The princess, however, archly predicts it will soon be violated, and enters into a conversation with the king, while Biron entertains Rosaline, both couples testing each other’s mettle in the then fashionable game of repartee.
After some polite verbal skirmishing, the king states the question as he understands it, promising that, as the princess has come to settle the business in her father’s behalf, she shall return ‘well satisfied to France again,’ although he intimates the King of France’s demands are unjust. When the princess reproaches him with not acknowledging the payments her father has made, Navarre courteously rejoins he has never heard of them, but is willing, if she proves her case, either to repay the sum in full, or to surrender Aquitaine, which he holds in pledge. Although unable to produce the required documents on the spot, — for the packet containing them has not yet arrived, — the princess accepts the offer and begs the king to postpone decision until the morrow. Navarre, therefore, takes courteous leave, again regretting not to be able to receive the fair princess more worthily within his gates, but assuring her ‘here without you shall be so received as you shall deem yourself lodged in my heart, though so denied fair harbour in my house.’ Then, returning her gracious farewell with the oft-quoted, ‘Thy own wish wish I thee in every place!’ Navarre departs.
Meantime, Biron, who has been conversing with the quick-witted Rosaline, takes leave of her, too, and rejoins his master, while Dumain and Longaville linger behind to ask the chamberlain the names of two of the princess’ attendants who have particularly attracted their notice. It is quite evident both these gentlemen have fallen in love, as well as Biron, who, as soon as they have gone, returns to ask Boyet Rosaline’s name, and to ascertain whether she is already married.
The gentlemen once out of hearing, Maria declares the last to go was Biron, a man who enjoys the reputation of never uttering a word save in jest. Such being the case, the chamberlain rejoins he answered the stranger in his own vein, and encouraged by Maria’s playfulness, volunteers to kiss her. She, however, refuses such advances, declaring her lips are ‘no common,’ and chaffing him until the princess remarks they must save their wit to exercise it on Navarre and ‘his book-men.’ Hearing this, the chamberlain gallantly assures his royal mistress the King of Navarre fell so deeply in love with her at first sight, that, provided she play her part well, he will give her ‘Aquitaine and all that is his,’ in return for ‘one loving kiss.’ Pretending to consider such a remark impertinent, the princess retires to her pavilion, while her maids linger to gibe at Boyet, whom they term ‘an old love-monger,’ since he is to be their messenger whenever they wish to communicate with the unapproachable court of Navarre.
The third act opens in the same place, just as Armado is enjoining upon Moth to sing to him, and after listening to his song, bids him release Costard, so he can carry a letter to his love. After commenting upon these orders in wordy style, and arguing for a while about love, the pupil goes, and Armado, the pedant, sinks into melancholy. He is roused from his reflections by Moth’s return with Costard, whom he introduces by a pun, which gives rise to another display of recondite wit on the part of master and pupil. It is only after some time, therefore, that the love-letter is entrusted to the wondering Costard, who is told to deliver it to Jaquenetta. Delighted with his freedom, and with the gift which the pedant grandiloquently terms a ‘remuneration,’ Costard watches master and pupil depart, and then reaches the conclusion that remuneration must be the Latin for ‘three farthings.’ Still, as that is a larger sum than he has ever before received, he is so pleased with the term that he vows, ‘I will never buy or sell out of this word.’
The rustic is still commenting upon his unusual luck, when Biron joins him, and, after some talk in regard to the purchasing power of three farthings, retains his services for the afternoon. Then Biron confides to the rustic that he wishes a letter delivered to Rosaline, one of the ladies in the princess’ train. He has noticed that the ladies daily hunt in this part of the forest, and wishes his ‘sealed up counsel,’ safely placed in Rosaline’s fair hand. To insure this he now hands Costard, with the letter, a ‘guerdon,’ which proves to be a whole shilling, thus causing the rustic to hope none but ‘gardons’ will henceforth come his way.
The delighted Costard having departed, Biron, in a soliloquy, confesses he has fallen victim to ‘Dan Cupid,’ whose wiles he eloquently describes, for he, who has ever made fun of ‘his almighty dreadful little might,’ is now reduced to ‘love, write, sigh, pray, sue, and groan.’
The fourth act, played in the same place, reveals the princess with her hunting train inquiring of the chamberlain whether it was the king who in the distance, ‘spurred his horse so hard against the steep uprising of the hill.’ Because the chamberlain seems doubtful, the princess haughtily remarks that, whoever it was, he showed a ‘mounting mind,’ and concludes that his majesty’s answer is due to-day, and that they will return home as soon as it is received. Then, turning to the forester, she inquires where she had better post herself, for she prides herself upon her fine shooting. While conversing wittily with this gentleman forester, and with her chamberlain, the princess is suddenly accosted by Costard, who blunderingly asks whether she is ‘the head lady.’ Amused by his awkwardness and simplicity, the princess mystifies him for a while, and then only asks for whom his message is intended. On learning it is a letter, from Monsieur Biron to Lady Rosaline, the princess takes possession of it, vowing it shall be read aloud to all present. She, therefore, breaks the seal, and hands it to her chamberlain, who finds it is addressed to Jaquenetta. Still, as his mistress insists upon hearing it, the chamberlain reads aloud a missive couched in such grandiloquent style that it hugely amuses the princess. She is still marvelling at its succession of parentheses within parentheses, when Boyet assures her it can have been penned only by Armado, a fantastic traveller, who ‘makes sport to the prince and his book-mates.’
Hearing this, the princess questions the rustic, who artlessly tells her Lord Biron gave him the letter for Lady Rosaline. Coldly informing him he has made a mistake, the princess hands over the letter to Rosaline, and leaves, followed by most of her train. The chamberlain, lingering behind with Rosaline, teasingly tries to obtain some information from her, but encounters only clever, evasive answers, couched in the style of the times. When Rosaline and Katharine have followed their mistress, the chamberlain and Maria pump the rustic, who answers their witticisms in kind until they leave him with a reproof. Thus left to his own devices. Costard declares he is ‘a most simple clown,’ whom these lords and ladies are trying to mystify, but expresses keen admiration for Armado, whose manners in ladies’ company seem to him the acme of elegance.
After the rustic has left, the scene is occupied by the schoolmaster Holofernes, the curate Sir Nathaniel, and the constable Dull, who discuss learnedly about hunting matters, the schoolmaster, in particular, interspersing his remarks with Latin words. which he ostentatiously translates for the benefit of his companions. They are both duly impressed, although the constable, ignorant of classic tongues, often mistakes a Latin word for some similar sounding expression in English. The curate, however, charitably explains and excuses such errors, by saying Dull has ‘never fed of the dainties that are bred in a book,’ that ‘he hath not eat paper, as it were; he hath not drunk ink!’ These excuses seem somewhat uncalled for by Dull, who, to exhibit some learning, too, propounds a riddle as old as the hills, which his companions solve without difficulty. This three-cornered conversation continues until interrupted by the arrival of Jaquenetta and Costard.
Returning their greetings in his pedantic way, the schoolmaster learns that Jaquenetta has received a letter through Costard, which she wishes to have read aloud to her. After a sonorous Latin quotation from Holofernes, — which the curate admires, — the latter reads aloud Biron’s flowery epistle, couched in verse far too elegant for Jaquenetta to understand. The pedantic schoolmaster, however, criticises the curate’s mode of reading poetry, and vows he did not accent the lines properly. Then he demands of the damsel who the writer of this epistle may be, and when told, ‘Biron, one of the strange queen’s lords,’ glances in surprise at the superscription. Now only, he discovers it is addressed ‘to the snow-white hand of the most beauteous Lady Rosaline,’ and notices that the signature is ‘your ladyship’s in all desired employment, Biron.’ From this fact he sagely concludes the letter has fallen into the wrong hands, and bids Jaquenetta hasten to deliver it to the King of Navarre. Afraid to venture alone, Jaquenetta again bespeaks Costard’s escort, and, after they have gone, the schoolmaster and curate discuss the verses, ere both depart; the former to dine with one of his pupils, to which meal he invites the constable Dull.
They have barely left this picturesque glade when Biron appears there, holding a paper, and declaring that, while the king is hunting the deer, he is coursing himself, for love pursues him incessantly and inclines him to melancholy and rhyming. While regretting he should have perjured himself so soon, he wonders whether his companions are afflicted with the same mad disease, until he suddenly becomes aware the king is drawing near, and hides in the bushes to take note of what he is doing. Deeming himself alone, the king sighs in such a sentimental way that Biron exclaims in an aside that his master has fallen victim to Cupid’s art. He decides that by lending an attentive ear he may discover the royal secrets, and is soon rewarded by overhearing Navarre thoughtfully recite some verses he has composed, wherein he reveals how desperately he has fallen in love with the French princess. These lines he intends to drop in her way, just as Longaville draws near in his turn, also reading aloud. Wishing to ascertain why his follower is prowling thus alone in the forest, and what he is reading, the king plunges into the bushes, to spy upon him.
Utterly unconscious of two listeners, Longaville now strolls forward, wailing he is forsworn, which causes the king and Biron to remark separately that he is acting exactly like a man on the stage. But when the unfortunate man wonders whether he is first to perjure himself, a whisper from Biron in the bushes avers that three, at least, of their band are guilty of this sin! Meantime, Longaville expresses fear lest his stubborn lines fail to impress ‘sweet Maria, empress of my love,’ and seems for a while inclined to tear them up and resort to plain prose. Still, after perusing them aloud, to the secret entertainment of his listeners, who comment upon his pompous lines, he decides to send them, although he does not know by what agency.
At this point, Longaville is disturbed in his cogitations by the sound of approaching footsteps, and promptly hides in his turn, while Biron mutters that they are acting just like children, while he sits aloft like a demigod in the sky, discovering ‘wretched fools’ secrets.’ Unconscious of three eavesdroppers, Dumain comes in sighing, ‘O most divine Kate,’ and proceeds to make sundry remarks about his lady-love’s charms. Meanwhile, Biron, the king, and Longaville ironically comment upon his statements, although they all fervently echo his lover-like ‘O that I had my wish!’ Dumain, too, reads aloud verses he has composed, which he intends to send with ‘something else more plain, that shall express my true love’s fasting pain.’ He expresses so ardent a desire that the king, Biron, and Longaville were lovers too, for ‘none offend where all alike do dote,’ that Longaville emerges from his hiding place, virtuously exclaiming he ought to blush to be ‘o’erheard and taken napping so!’ But, scarcely has Longaville finished this hypocritical reproof, when the king, issuing from the bushes in his turn, vows Longaville has doubly offended, since he is in a similar plight, and has spent considerable time expatiating upon Maria’s charms. This royal reproof, addressed to Longaville, simply delights Biron, who waits until it is ended, ere he steps out in his turn to ‘whip hypocrisy,’ for, although he humbly begs his master’s pardon, he cannot refrain from wittily describing how he overheard Navarre behaving just as sentimentally as Longaville or Dumain. Biron is still ridiculing all three, — who are covered with confusion to have been overheard and wince when Biron repeats their speeches, — and has just launched into a tirade, wherein he states he holds it sin ‘to break the vow I am engaged in,’ when tramping is heard, and Jaquenetta and Costard rush in.
After greeting the king, this couple breathlessly declare they have a paper, which must be treason, and which they hand over to him. While the king questions the messengers, — who declare the missive was given them by the pedant Armado, — the king carelessly hands it over to Biron, who no sooner glances at it, than he furiously tears the paper to pieces. His master, wonderingly inquiring why he does this, Biron rejoins it was a mere trifle, but Dumain and Longaville insist it ‘moved him to passion,’ and curiously gather up the bits to see what they mean. To Dumain’s surprise he discovers they are in Biron’s handwriting! Seeing himself betrayed by Costard’s stupidity, Biron now confesses he made fun of his friends without having any right to do so, seeing he is in the same predicament as they. He acknowledges ‘that you three fools lack’d me fool to make up the mess’ and that they four ‘are pick-purses in love,’ and hence ‘deserve to die.’ Then, urging his master to dismiss the rustic couple, — who depart with the virtuous consciousness of having ably fulfilled a weighty duty, — Biron rapturously embraces his fellow-sinners, declaring sagely, ‘young blood doth not obey an old decree.’
When the king asks him whether the torn lines were addressed to some one he loves, Biron enthusiastically launches out into a panegyric of ‘heavenly Rosaline,’ over whose charms he raves, until the king and his friends proceed just as rapturously to claim the palm of beauty for their lady-loves. The duo between the king and Biron, who are the readiest speakers, is varied by an occasional quartette, in which Dumain and Longaville take part, so as to defend and uphold the attractions of their sweethearts. In the course of this fourfold rhapsody and dispute in regard to the preeminence of their beloveds’ charms, these men employ the extravagant euphuistic expressions current at that day to describe female attractions. Finally, Biron pronounces that the only study worthy of mankind is that of the opposite sex, and declares women’s eyes are ‘the ground, the books, the academes, from whence doth spring the true Promethean fire.’ The four lovers, therefore, conclude ‘it is religion to be thus forsworn,’ and decide, instead of foolishly carrying out their original programme, to lay siege to the hearts of all four ladies. This motion being enthusiastically carried, plans are made to entertain the ladies in their tents with a series of masques, revels, and dances, each suitor pledging himself to do his best to entertain his special inamorata, and strew ‘her way with flowers.’
The fifth act opens on the same spot, just as the schoolmaster, the curate, and Dull are expatiating in characteristic fashion upon the enjoyment they have derived from their meal. The curate and schoolmaster use many pretentious words, until interrupted in their verbal pyrotechnics by the arrival of the very man whose arts they were discussing. When Armado, with Moth, and Costard have joined them, a conversation is begun, wherein the learned speakers parade considerable false Latin and make far-fetched puns, while Moth slyly whispers to Costard that ‘they have been at a great feast of languages, and stolen the scraps!’ Then, taking his part in the discussion, Moth displays wit which appeals so strongly to Costard’s limited sense of humour, that he bestows upon him the ‘remuneration’ he received a little while ago.
Finally, Armado informs his companions, in such a maze of words that it is difficult to discover their meaning, that the king and his companions wish to entertain the ladies with a pageant. Knowing the schoolmaster’s and curate’s talents in this line Armado has come to bespeak their aid. Flattered by such a compliment, the schoolmaster enthusiastically suggests they present the ‘Nine Worthies,’ he himself volunteering to play three of the parts, and awarding the rest to his companions. When they object that Moth, — whom he selects for Hercules, — is far too small and puny to suit the character, he readily declares the page shall personate the infant Hercules, and strangle serpents, declaiming an apology of his composition, while Dull accompanies him on the tabor. This settled, all depart to prepare for this wonderful play.
The princess and her maids now appear in their turn, commenting merrily upon the rich gifts, or fairings, their respective lovers have sent them, each token being accompanied with verses which they discuss. In the course of this conversation they chaff each other wittily, and exhibit their letters and gifts. Finally the chamberlain bursts in, almost choking with laughter, bidding them prepare for a great onslaught, and exclaiming, ‘Muster your wits; stand in your own defence; or hide your head like cowards, and fly hence!’ When the princess eagerly inquires what he means, he explains that, while dozing beneath a sycamore, he overheard the king and his companions plotting to surprise the four ladies in the guise of Russian mummers, and laboriously teaching a page the speech he is to recite in herald’s guise. Boyet adds, that, after dancing before the ladies, these Russian lovers will each invite the object of his affections to tread a measure with him, all feeling confident they can recognise even masked sweethearts, thanks to the ornaments they will doubtless wear.
The princess no sooner learns this merry plot, than she decides to outwit it, and, quick as a flash, exchanges tokens with her companions, so that each Russian will lead away the wrong masked lady, to whom he will doubtless make a formal proposal. Her intention is ‘to cross theirs,’ for she feels sure ‘they do it but in mocking merriment,’ and is, therefore, anxious to pay them back in their own coin. Her conclusion that ‘there’s no such sport as sport by sport o’erthrown,’ meets with such approval from the other three ladies, that they promptly assume masks as soon as trumpets are heard, and prepare to carry out the deception they have planned to bewilder their disguised suitors.
A moment later the promised entertainment is ushered in, the page Moth marching ahead, prepared to recite his piece. He remembers it, however, so imperfectly, that the attitude of the ladies, — who, instead of facing him, suddenly turn their backs upon him, — puts him out entirely. Although Biron frantically prompts him, the poor youth gets so tangled up that he finally flees in disgrace! Because she personates the princess, Rosaline now haughtily inquires of the chamberlain who these people may be, and asks that they make known the purpose of their call. When the chamberlain replies they have come to dance before her, she seems to hesitate; still, after exchanging a few witticisms on the subject with Boyet and Biron, permits them, at the king’s request, to exhibit their talents. She and her companions, however, utterly refuse to tread a measure with them; but in spite of this refusal, the king and his friends manage to lead aside the ladies wearing their respective tokens, whom they, therefore, naturally suppose to be the objects of their love. In this part of the scene the king is paired with Rosaline, the princess with Biron, Longaville with Katharine, and Dumain with Maria, and each lady proceeds to lead her lover on and flout him wittily. All four suitors finally depart, having derived little satisfaction from this coveted interview, although each has manfully tried to make the depth of his attachment clear.
Boyet, the amused spectator of these asides, wisely remarks ‘the tongues of mocking wenches are as keen as is the razor’s edge invisible,’ and when the Russians have gone, laughingly compares them to tapers ‘with your sweet breaths puff’d out,’ before each lady describes how her swain proposed to her. They laugh merrily over all the speeches, but, convinced the suitors will soon reappear, retire to their tents to remove their masks, and restore the borrowed tokens to their rightful owners. They intend, however, to continue the game, by facetiously describing to the king and his companions the ridiculous mummers who have just visited them.
While they are still in their tents, the King of Navarre returns with his three companions, dressed as usual, and inquires of the chamberlain where the princess may be. After courteously rejoining she is in her tent, Boyet hastens thither to announce to his mistress that the King of Navarre craves audience. During his absence, Biron, who has repeatedly exchanged witticisms with the chamberlain, remarks that this fellow ‘pecks up wit as pigeons pease, and utters it again when God doth please,’ a very good sample of much of the wit in this play.
In a few moments the princess reappears, followed by her ladies, and, after returning the king’s greeting, refuses his tardy invitation to enter the park, insisting she cannot be a party to his breaking his vows. Besides, she avers she has not been dull, and, to prove it, describes how they have just been entertained by ‘a mess of Russians!’ Then Rosaline exclaims that throughout the hour these men spent with them, they ‘did not bless us with one happy word,’ a cutting remark resented by Biron, who returns that her wit ‘makes wise things foolish,’ This proves the signal for a new sparring match, in the course of which Rosaline routs Biron utterly by revealing that she and her companions saw through their disguise. Finding himself detected, Biron promises never again to try and deceive Rosaline, but invites her to bruise him with scorn, confound him with a flout, thrust her sharp wit quite through his ignorance, and cut him to pieces with her keen conceit!
Meanwhile, the king having also craved the princess’ pardon, she bids him confess what he whispered in his lady’s ear when last he was here. When Navarre rejoins how he assured her ‘that more than all the world’ he did respect her, the princess asks whether he will reject that lady’s hand in case she claims him. Hearing him swear, ‘Upon my honour, no,’ the princess summons Rosaline, and bids her state exactly what her Russian suitor whispered in her pretty ear. When Rosaline repeats Navarre’s speech, word for word, his amazed majesty exclaims he never swore love to Rosaline, but to the princess, who wore his token!
Thereupon the princess drily informs him how on that day Rosaline wore his jewels, and he, turning to Biron, vows some ‘carry tale’ must have betrayed their secret. They are just accusing the chamberlain of doing so; and the whole matter is barely cleared up, and the Russians forced to acknowledge they have been defeated in a brave and merry tilt, when Costard awkwardly enters upon the scene, inquiring whether they would like to see the Nine Worthies, who have come. As three men only have entered, Biron playfully inquires where the nine may be, only to hear the simple Costard as sure him that three times three is nine, for each man will take three parts. To tease him, Biron tangles him up with questions he cannot understand. Undeterred by all this, Costard demands again whether the company are ready to see the Nine Worthies, volunteering that he is to play the part of ‘Pompion the Great.’ Gracious permission being granted the Worthies to appear, the clown hurries out, while the king murmurs this man will surely disgrace them; but Biron comforts him with the assurance it will be good policy to let the ladies see a worse show than that presented by ‘the king and his company.’ Besides, the princess insists upon seeing the production, as ‘that sport best pleases that doth least know how.’
A moment later Don Armado enters, and, after conversing a while apart with the king, hands him a paper. Meanwhile the princess wonderingly asks Biron whether this man serves God, for his speech is so bombastic and involved that it proves almost unintelligible. When Armado disappears, assuring them the schoolmaster is ‘exceeding fantastical,’ all prepare for the appearance of the promised Nine Worthies. Costard, the first player, enters on the scene, tricked out as Pompey, and has scarcely uttered a few words of his speech when the chamberlain contradicts him, and soon succeeds in putting him out. Such is Costard’s confusion, that he finally piteously entreats the princess to say ‘thanks Pompey,’ and thus grant him the privilege to withdraw. To humour the rustic, the princess promptly complies, and. Costard having vanished, the curate appears, personating Alexander. He, too, is so guyed by Boyet and Biron that he is soon obliged to leave the scene.
The rustic now reappears, jealously remarking the curate represented Alexander no better than he did Pompey, and announcing that the schoolmaster will personate Judas Maccabeus, and his disciple, Hercules. After introducing the infant Hercules, in a mixture of Latin and English, Judas Maccabeus vainly tries to play his own part, but is prevented from doing so by numerous interruptions on the part of the spectators, whose unkind remarks drive him away in despair before he has finished his speech. When the pedant comes on the stage as Hector, he, too, is mocked by all present, even by the princess, who claims she has been hugely entertained by their performance. Her commendations merely amuse the other spectators, who keep up their gibes, until Costard blurts out that Don Armado is not the hero he tries to appear, but merely a good for nothing wretch, unless he right poor Jaquenetta. Such an accusation results, naturally, in a vehement quarrel, which the gentlemen enjoy, until their attention is diverted.
The interruption is caused by the arrival of a French courtier, who bears so sober a face that even before he can voice his message the princess exclaims her father must be dead! Such being, indeed, the case, Biron dismisses the Worthies, who seem glad to escape without further ado, although Armado mutters he will ‘right himself like a soldier.’ The king now tenderly implores the princess to tarry in Navarre a while longer, but she assures him they must start for home that very evening. Then, with courteous thanks for his fair entertainment, which her ‘new-sad soul’ will not allow her to mention any further, she bids him farewell.
The King of Navarre, who regrets her visit should have been marred by bad news, vows he will not annoy her at present with ‘the smiling courtesy of love,’ although he fully intends to renew his ‘holy’ suit later on. It is, as Biron assures her, for her sake and that of her fair companions, that the king and his friends have violated their oaths, a fact of which the princess is fully aware, all the letters they have forwarded having been duly received. Still, as it is not fitting to answer love missives at present, the princess gravely bids her suitor show his constancy by retiring into a hermitage for a year, spending his time there, remote from the pleasures of the world, and promising to reward him at the end of that period, in case he still feels the same devotion for her. Meanwhile, she will pass the year mourning for her parent’s death. Such a term of probation seems neither too long nor too hard a test for Navarre’s love, for he solemnly rejoins:
If this, or more than this, I would deny, to flatter up these sudden powers of mine with rest, the sudden hand of death close up mine eye!’
Meantime, turning to Rosaline, Biron entreats an answer to his suit, only to be told that if he wishes to obtain her favour, he must spend a twelve-month tending the sick. Dumain is bidden wait a year, grow a beard, and prove he is to be trusted, while Maria coyly promises at the end of the year to lay aside her mourning and reward ‘a faithful friend.’
When Biron, unsatisfied, inquires from Rosaline exactly what he is to do, this lady informs him that, before she ever saw him, she had been told he was a man ‘replete with mocks, full of comparisons and wounding flouts.’ She, therefore, enjoins upon him to ‘weed this wormwood’ from his fruitful brain if he would please her, and use his wit only ‘to enforce the painted impotent to smile,’ and cheer and divert those who are in pain. At first Biron exclaims what she requires is an impossibility, but Rosaline urges him to make the effort, and thus learn that ‘a jest’s propriety lies in the ear of him that hears it, never in the tongue of him that makes it.’
When the ladies again express regrets and farewells, the King of Navarre and his friends assure them they will escort them part way, and all are about to leave the scene, when Don Armado announces they have not heard him vow to turn fanner for Jaquenetta’s sake, and have missed the best part of his entertainment, the dialogue in praise of the owl and the cuckoo. To gratify Don Armado, the king orders him to present the dialogue; whereupon schoolmaster, curate, disciple, and clown return to the scene, respectively personating Winter and Spring, the owl and the cuckoo. This part of the play consists in a graceful spring song with a coarse refrain, and a descriptive ditty of winter’s cold, during which the owl chants his mournful song.
The curtain falls after the last rustic refrain, and just as the pedant wisely remarks that ‘the words of Mercury are harsh after the songs of Apollo!’ Then the king and ladies depart in one direction, while the extempore actors vanish in the other.