King Ferdinand of Navarre meets with his friends, Berowne, Longaville and Dumain.
The King's excited about this scheme they've cooked up. They're going to get famous by establishing a school at the court for the next three years. The King wants them to sign their names to promise to obey the rules.
Longaville agrees. He wants to work on this mind and forget his body.
Dumain, too. He'll leave love and fame in favor of philosophy.
Not so fast, says Berowne. He's into the studying part – but no girls? One meal a day? Only three hours of sleep a night? Is this prison?
The others remind him he agreed to do it, but still, he's unconvinced. In the first of many long and elaborate speeches, Berowne argues against too much studying (like some other excessive acts, it will make you go blind) and for experiencing life, especially the part including attractive women.
Impressed by his eloquence, still, the boys are unmoved. If you're not in, you're out, says the King. Nah, I was just playing, says Berowne. I'll sign.
But wait a minute. Berowne is daunted by the fine print: any lady approaching the court will lose her tongue, and any man seen talking to her will be publicly humiliated. He reminds the King that the Princess of France is coming to meet about the surrender of Aquitaine.
The King totally forgot about that. Well, he has to meet with her; that's a necessity.
Berowne suggests that many more necessities will arise over the next three years, so many more exceptions will be made. With that out, Berowne finally signs.
Berowne thinks it may be a dull three years. Has the King arranged for any entertainment?
Oh but yes! A funny Spaniard who likes to make up words will tell them stories – his name is Armado.
Berowne seems satisfied by this offering.
Longaville offers up the peasant Costard for additional amusement.
And here Costard comes now. With the Constable Dull, bearing a letter from Armado. The young scholars are eager to read it.
Costard wants to get a word in first – the letter is about his involvement with a country girl Jaquenetta.
Enough out of this clod, let's get to the letter from Armado. The King excitedly reads it – with a number of interruptions from Costard. It's a long, hilariously flowery creation tattling on Costard for breaking the rules and talking to a woman.
The King asks Costard if he heard the proclamation threatening one year's imprisonment for talking to a wench. Costard tries to get Jaquenetta upgraded from "wench" to "damsel," "virgin," and "maid," but it makes no difference – he's sentenced to bran and water for a week. Don Armado will be his keeper.
The King, Longaville and Dumain exit with renewed faith in their noble plans for self-denial. Skeptical Berowne stays behind with Costard, who is comically playing the martyr.