The princess, her ladies, Boyet, and a forester are hunting. The princess says that she and her attendants will return to France soon and asks the forester where they will hunt. The forester says that she will make “the fairest shoot.” The princess thinks he is complimenting her beauty and thanks him, but he says he didn’t mean it that way.
The princess and the forester offer another example of miscommunication. He meant to describe her shot with a bow as fair, and she assumed that he was intending a witty compliment about her own beauty.
The princess says that she will match her beauty with “merit,” by killing a deer “for praise.” Costard enters and asks for the “head lady,” and “the highest” lady. The princess jokes that it is the tallest lady, with a head. Costard tells the princess that he has a letter from Berowne for Rosaline. Boyet takes the letter and sees that it is addressed to Jacquenetta.
The more intelligent characters continue to joke with Costard, as the princess pretends to take his language overly literally. Costard foolishly delivers the wrong letter to Rosaline.
Nonetheless, Boyet reads out the letter, written by Armado. In over-wrought language, the letter describes Jacquenetta’s beauty and (in a very roundabout way) confesses Armado’s love for Jacquenetta. Armado compares himself to a lion seeking a lamb for prey. The princess laughs at the ridiculous letter. Boyet informs her that Armado is a Spaniard at Ferdinand’s court.
Armado’s love letter is ridiculously verbose, again making fun of him as being overly "learned." The message and intent of his writing is almost lost in its excessive ornamentation. The clever princess laughs at Armado, because from his writing it is clear he thinks he is much more intelligent than he is.
The princess tells Costard that he has mixed up his letters. Everyone but Maria, Rosaline, Boyet, and Costard leaves. Boyet and Rosaline joke about hunting: she says that she is the “shooter,” hunting “horns” (cuckolds, men with unfaithful wives, were imagined with horns). Maria joins in the jesting, saying that the princess “strikes at the brow” with her wit.
Boyet, Rosaline, and Maria test their wits with each other by trading quips that pun on various hunting terms with romantic associations such as deer (with “dear”) and horns (a symbol of cuckoldry).
Rosaline and Boyet sing part of a song together, and then Rosaline leaves. Maria says that they both “did hit it,” i.e. sang accurately. Boyet, Maria, and Costard trade some quips before Boyet and Maria leave. Alone on stage, Costard remarks upon everyone’s “sweet jests, most incony vulgar wit.” He then laughs at Armado’s love for Jacquenetta, calling him “a most pathetical nit.”
Maria continues the hunting puns with her comment that Rosaline and Maria “hit it.” Costard does his best to join in the wordplay, and is impressed by the French characters’ wit. He finds Armado’s love ridiculous and uses it as a chance to look down on him and laugh at him.