March 13-April 7, 2013
The young King Ferdinand of Navarre aims to make his kingdom the center for academic learning. He is also determined to eliminate all “distractions” including the company of women. He asks that three young lords of his court join him and swear to uphold these rules for three years, while they all devote themselves to strenuous study. Longaville and Dumaine agree, but Biron is dubious. He reminds the king that the young princess of France is arriving on state business. The king agrees to speak to her, but insists that she and her women sleep outside his palace, in deference to his oath. He also bows to the need for entertainment and retains a clown called Costard and a pretentious Spanish aristocrat, Don Armado. Both men are in love with a peasant girl called Jaquenetta, with whom Costard has already been caught in compromising circumstances.
The king is very attracted to the princess, and of course his three lords are attracted to her three ladies, Maria, Katherine, and Rosaline. Rosaline and Biron fall into a bantering relationship. Biron writes her a love poem and gives it to Costard to deliver. Don Armado asks Costard to deliver a love letter from him to Jaquenetta. To everyone’s amusement, the two letters get mixed up.
The king and his three friends each overhear the other writing love poems and realize that it is time to give up on their oaths. They set about actively courting their respective lovers, disguised as Russians. The women, who have been alerted to the scheme, tease them by wearing masks and switching partners. When the tricks are discovered, everyone takes it in good part. They sit down to enjoy a bungling pageant performed by Don Armado and his cohorts. This is interrupted by news that the French king has died and the princess must return home immediately. The men propose marriage. The women refuse but agree to return the following year.
From Shakespeare Genealogies by Vanessa James