Summary and Analysis
A formal grouping of the Princess of France with three attendant lords and three ladies takes the stage. The nobleman Boyet sings the Princess's praises ("Yourself held precious in the worlds esteem"), while he urges her to represent her father's interest well to "Matchless Navarre." The King of France still owes 100,000 crowns to Navarre in repayment for money spent by the latter's father in the wars. As equity for the loan, Navarre keeps one part of Aquitaine. He later explains:
If then the King your father will restore
But that one half which is unsatisfied,
We will give up our right in Aquitaine,
And hold fair friendship with his majesty. (139–42)
But before Navarre arrives on the scene, we are given an insight into the Princess's spirited character. She bids Boyet to forego his flattery:
Good Lord Boyet, my beauty, though but mean,
Needs not the painted flourish of your praise.
Beauty is bought by judgment of the eye,
Not utt'red by base sale of chapmen's tongues. (13–16)
She knows of Navarre's "three year vow," and therefore she bids Boyet to intercede for her. At Boyet's exit, the Princess turns to her ladies and asks sarcastically about Navarre's companions.
Who are the votaries [fellow vow-takers], my loving lords,
That are vow-fellows with this virtuous duke? (37–38)
In turn, the women answer, each naming the nobleman who struck her eye when last they met: Maria remembers Longaville, "a man of sovereign parts" who also has "too blunt a will"; Katherine mentions Dumain, "a well-accomplished youth"; and Rosaline says that when Biron speaks, "younger hearings are quite ravished." The Princess is astonished: "God bless my ladies! Are they all in love?"
Boyet interrupts the talk by returning to announce that Navarre means to lodge you in the field" rather than break his vow. The ladies don masks as Navarre, Biron, Dumain, and Longaville enter. The Princess's sharp tongue takes Navarre by surprise:
King: Fair Princess, welcome to the court of Navarre.
Princess: "Fair' I give you back again; and "welcome!'
I have not yet. The roof of this court is too
high to be yours, and welcome to the wide
fields too base to be mine. (90–94)
Biron and Rosaline echo the playfully hostile exchange of their superiors:
Biron: What time o' day?
Rosaline: The hour that fools should ask.
Biron: Now fair befall your mask.
Rosaline: Fair fall the face it covers!
Biron: And send you many lovers!
Rosaline: Amen, so you be none.
Biron: Nay, then will I be gone. (122–28)
Dumain asks Boyet about Katherine ("heir of Alencon") and Longaville about Maria ("heir of Falconbridge") before they depart. The Princess interrupts a testy exchange between Katherine and Boyet to admonish them: "This civil war of wits were much better used/On Navarre and his book-men, for here 'tis abused." The scene draws to a close with sixteen lines of rhymed couplets in which Boyet interprets Navarre's loving looks — "all eyes saw his eyes enchanted with gazes — as proof that the princess will most likely be able to recover Aquitaine for the price of a kiss.
Shakespeare draws the lines for his love comedy with perfect symmetry in this scene. The battle of the sexes will be a battle of wits, matching the Princess and her three ladies against Navarre and his three lords. At this juncture, Boyet functions as a go-between and commentator. Both the Princess and Rosaline speak with the verve and tough beauty of Shakespeare's heroines in such more mature plays as As You Like It and Twelfth Night. That the Princess disarms Navarre in this scene is more than possible, if Boyet can be believed. Part of the fun in the comedy derives from showing the mastermind of the "three years' abstinence" idea as falling in love at first sight. On stage, with a good actor, this could be made clear easily enough and would not need be broadcast to the audience. Navarre's broken lines when speaking to the Princess ("Hear me, dear lady — I have sworn an oath") indicate some hesitation in his speech. And the Princess describes herself as "too sudden-bold," as if she noticed him being schoolboyish in his dealing with her. The King does become quite efficient when talking business (the loan, Acquitaine, etc.), but one wonders if there is more than mere formality in his words when he tells her upon parting that "you shall deem yourself lodged in my heart." Any attraction Navarre does feel, of course, he would also be desperate to hide from his fellow "votaries." It is perfectly obvious that each of them, in turn, is already infatuated with his female counterpart, and vice-versa. From this point on, it appears that "love's labour" will not really be "lost .
Notice the style of language in this scene. Boyet's request at the start of the scene that the Princess show herself to the best possible advantage is typically elegant:
Be now as prodigal of all dear grace,
As Nature was in making graces dear
When she did starve the general world beside
And prodigally gave them all to you. (9–12)
There does come a point, however, at which the rhyme used in the scene grows tedious. Even if Shakespeare meant thereby to make a comment on the character speaking, as in the following, there remains a problem for modern audiences. Boyet finishes his speech on Navarre's self-betraying looks thus:
His face's own margent did quote such amazes
That all eyes saw his eyes enchanted with gazes.
I'll give you Aquitaine, and all that is his,
And you give him for my sake but one loving kiss. (246–49)
The Princess dismisses him: "Come to our pavilion. Boyet is disposed."