The princess of France enters with her attendants: Boyet, Katherine, Rosaline, and Maria. Complimenting her beauty, Boyet reminds the princess to be charming toward Ferdinand, as she has been sent to negotiate an exchange of land on behalf of her father. The princess, having heard of Ferdinand’s vow to ban women from his court, sends Boyet ahead to tell Ferdinand that she has come to see him “on serious business.”
Aside from Jacquenetta, the first main female characters now enter the play, in a group of four complementing the foursome of Ferdinand and his three lords. It's noteworthy that the princess is here “on serious business,” though the supposedly serious Ferdinand will, because of his love, make the majority of her visit one filled with jokes, frivolities, and entertainment.
The princess asks her attendants about the lords that have agreed to Ferdinand’s vow to study for three years without women. Maria describes Longaville as wise, virtuous, and “glorious in arms.” Katherine says that Dumaine is “a well-accomplished youth” with much wit. Rosaline tells the princess about Berowne, whom she describes as skilled with words, witty, and merry. Hearing such praise, the princess wonders whether her three attendants are in love with these three men.
The king’s men have a reputation for their intelligence and quick wit. Visiting Navarre for important business, the princess is worried that her ladies might be distracted by their loves (similar to Ferdinand’s worry that his men would be distracted from their studies by women).
Boyet returns and tells the princess that Ferdinand plans to have her and her attendants camp out in the field outside of his court, as if they were attacking enemies. Ferdinand then enters with Longaville, Dumaine, and Berowne. Ferdinand welcomes the princess, but she is offended at not being allowed into his actual court.
Ferdinand refuses to make an exception from his rule to keep women out of his court, even for the serious diplomatic business of the visiting princess.
Ferdinand apologizes and explains that he has “sworn an oath,” about which the princess teases him, taking advantage of his dilemma: he wants to welcome her as a good host, but cannot violate his own oath. Meanwhile, Rosaline and Berowne flirt with each other, having recognized each other from a dance. They trade snappy, witty remarks with each other.
The princess displays her wit by teasing Ferdinand. Despite the important business of the princess’ visit, Rosaline and Berowne immediately begin flirting with each other, testing each other’s wit in their quick back-and-forth.
Ferdinand reads a letter from the princess’ father offering a sum of money for the territory of Aquitaine. He says that it is only half as much as he requires. He says that the princess’ “fair self” would make him accept the proposed deal, were it not so unreasonable. The princess insists that her father already paid Ferdinand the other half of the fee he desires. Boyet says that the papers proving this exchange will arrive tomorrow.
Ferdinand already starts to mix business and pleasure, as he notices and compliments the princess’s “fair” appearance while discussing the territory of Acquitaine. Until the arrival of the papers that Boyet describes, the characters will have time to pursue their other, less official interests of love and entertainment.
Ferdinand says he will be reasonable when he sees these papers. He promises to make the princess welcome and comfortable outside of his court, even though she is “denied fair harbour in my house,” then leaves. Berowne trades more witty quips with Rosaline, and Dumaine then asks Boyet what Katherine’s name is, calling her “a gallant lady,” before leaving. Longaville asks about Maria, whom he thinks is “a most sweet lady,” then exits. Berowne asks Boyet for Rosaline’s name and then leaves.
Ferdinand holds in his conviction to keep the women out of his court. However, his efforts to prevent love seem to be doomed to fail, as his men are already expressing interest in the princess’ ladies.
Maria tells Boyet about Berowne, who is a constant jokester. They trade witticisms, until the princess tells them to stop “this civil war of wits” and save their cleverness for Ferdinand and his men. Boyet tells the princess that Ferdinand seemed to be in love with her, as evidenced by the way he spoke to and looked at her. Rosaline calls Boyet a “love-monger” and Maria calls him “Cupid’s grandfather.”
The princess and her ladies are extremely clever and good with words. The princess encourages them to save their wit for Ferdinand and his men, whom she plans to tease and toy with. The princess’s serious diplomatic mission has quickly turned into a merry meeting full of love and jokes.