In Florence, some French noblemen warn Bertram that Parolles is not to be trusted. One calls Parolles “a most notable coward, an infinite and endless liar, an hourly promise-breaker.” Bertram wonders how he can put Parolles to the test and see his true character, and one nobleman suggests that they can let Parolles try to recapture the military drum he has lost to the enemy.
The noblemen plan to ambush Parolles, pretend to be the enemy, and kidnap him. Once he is blindfolded, they tell Bertram that Parolles will surely betray him and give secrets away to who he thinks is the enemy, in order to save his own life. Parolles enters, and Bertram and the noblemen speak of how dishonorable the loss of the drum was. Bragging, Parolles says that he could retrieve the drum. Bertram encourages him to try to retrieve it, and says that he and the duke will honor him if he is successful.
Parolles still tries to project a brave persona to Bertram, pretending to be brave and loyal. The noblemen’s plan to expose Parolles’ true nature as a coward uses deception to expose deception. Unlike Parolles’ trickery, though, this sneaky plan has the justifiable end of revealing the truth about Parolles to Bertram.
Bertram tells Parolles that he is confident in Parolles’ bravery and ability, and Parolles promises to go get the drum back from the enemy. Parolles leaves, and the noblemen tell Bertram that he will soon learn Parolles’ true character. A nobleman says that Parolles will not even try to retrieve the drum from the enemy, and will try to make up a story about it. Some of the noblemen leave, and Bertram takes one nobleman to show him Diana, the “fair creature” he is trying to seduce.
Bertram is suspicious of Parolles’ lies, but he himself lies here when he tells Parolles that he is confident in him. Still, Bertram’s deception is perhaps justified because his goal is to expose Parolles’ true nature, whereas Parolles’ has no goal other than helping himself. Despite the war and the matter with Parolles, Bertram is still mainly concerned with wooing Diana.