The pompous Spanish military man, Don Armado, engages his page, Moth, in conversation about his (the Dons) emotional quandary. He loves the "country girl" Jaquenetta, and at the start of the scene, he is out of sorts: "Boy, what sign is it when a man of great spirit grows melancholy? The page steadily twits his dull-witted master, while apparently entertaining him with clever turns of phrase. As Armado puts it, he is "quick in answers." One example of an extended quibble they engage in has to do with the number three, as Armado says, "I have promised to study three years with the Duke."
Moth: Then I am sure you know how much of the gross sum of deuce-ace amounts to.
Armado: It doth amount to one more than two.
Moth:Which the base vulgar do call three.
Moth: Why, sir, is this such a piece of study? Now
here is three studied ere ye'll thrice wink; and how easy it is to put 'years! to the word 'three,' and study three years in two words, the dancing horse will tell you.
Armado: A most fine figure [of speech].
Moth: [aside] To prove you a cipher. 47–58)
The object of Armado's affections soon enters, together with Costard and Dull, and she treats him little better than his page.
Armado: I will visit thee at the lodge.
Jaquenetta: That's hereby.
Armado: I know where it is situate.
Jaquenetta: Lord, how wise you are!
Armado: I will tell thee wonders.
Jaquenetta: With that face? (140–45)
Dull tells Armado that it is the duke's pleasure that he should be responsible for meting out Costard's punishment of three days! fast per week. The scene ends with a grotesque soliloquy in which Armado declares the extent of his love for Jaquenetta.
Armado is ugly; "with that face," Jaquenetta exclaims, looking at him, and possibly he is also corpulent, as were many of the bragging Spanish soldier types in the commedia dell'arte, the professional Italian touring troupes with which Shakespeare was surely acquainted. Armado is undoubtedly an affected ass. His page, taking the hint from his name, which suggests a "mote" or speck, is quite the opposite, probably diminutive and quick in body as well as mind. This is a comedy pair, at the heart of the subplot, doing virtually everything the characters from the "high" social stratum are capable of in exaggerated and absurd manner. The tedious word games with which Moth entertains Armado are difficult to sustain even for the servant, hence the frequent asides. And the spectacle of Armado as a "gentleman lover," here enraptured by a country wench, acts as a foil to the sets of lovers in the main plot.
Shakespeare has written the part of Armado in the vein of a commedia Braggart, and of course in the age of the Spanish Armada (the character's name even echoes this) the English audience would especially enjoy the lampoon of their archrival nation. Armado's speech calls for extravagance and improvisation, as would be the case in a commedia dell'arte performance. It also parodies the elaborate word displays of Shakespeare's educated contemporaries:
Armado: I do affect the very ground (which is base)
where her shoe (which is basest) doth tread. I
shall be forsworn (which is a great argument
of falsehood) if I love. And how can that be
true love which is falsely attempted? Love is
a familiar [spirit]; Love is a devil. There is no
evil angel but Love. (172–77)
This goes on for thirteen more lines, proceeding by a loose association of ideas, imprinting on the audience's mind the depths of Armado's tediousness.