Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Berowne (beh-REWN), a witty, sophisticated young lord in the court of King Ferdinand of Navarre. Although he joins his monarch’s idealistic academy, he warns his companions of the folly of study for its own sake and advises them to seek wisdom in the contemplation of feminine beauty. He delights in words, exchanging puns and rhymes with his friends and waxing rhapsodic when he falls in love. He meets his match in Rosaline and swears that he will henceforth woo with “rustic yeas and honest kersey noes.” She orders him to temper his ironic wit with sympathy; he must spend the next year jesting in hospitals.
Rosaline (ROHZ-uh-lin), one of the charming ladies in waiting to the princess of France. Clever and sparkling, she whets her mind in verbal battles with Boyet and spars endlessly with Berowne, who is continually overcome by her wit. She is the first of William Shakespeare’s bright, confident heroines, the prototype for Beatrice, Viola, Portia, and Rosalind.
Ferdinand, the king of Navarre, an idealistic young ruler who intends to win everlasting fame by establishing a Platonic academy devoted to study and ascetic living. The appearance of the princess of France on a diplomatic mission quickly disperses his noble goals as he and his lords promptly fall in love and turn their attention to...
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Armado (Don Andriano de Armado)
Armado is first described by the king, just before he enters the stage in the play's first scene, as ''One who the music of his own vain tongue / Doth ravish like an enchanting harmony" (Li. 166-7). Armado is a self-important Spanish courtier—not unlike Don Quixote in character—who is in love with the country wench Jaquenetta. When he comes upon her with Costard the clown (outside the play's action) he sends a letter to the king demanding Costard's punishment. Given the task of keeping the clown under his guard, Armado sends him to deliver a courtly and elaborate love letter to Jaquenetta. Armado's language may be described as pretentious throughout. He condescends to his own page, Moth, who in turn makes fun of his master, usually in asides to the audience. Armado claims to be on intimate terms with the king and the ladies of France, who actually ridicule him—especially when his letter is delivered accidentally into the hands of Rosaline instead of Jaquenetta. Yet Armado is one of the courtiers sworn not to keep company with women; he is a member of the academy. He thus acts as a double of the more aristocratic characters in the play. Like them, he writes an illicit love letter; he even holds court, of a kind, with a rebellious follower, Moth—much as the king holds court with his rebellious follower, Berowne.
Later, Armado's role becomes part of the pathetic final comedy of the play. He plays the Trojan warrior Hector in the Pageant of the Nine...
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He is the central figure of the play. One of the king's lords, he is infatuated with language (especially his own), and yet even from the beginning exhibits the most suspicion toward the "academy" of the court. In the opening scene, Berowne protests the stringency of the oath of chastity and study he has sworn, arguing that the oath will be too difficult for the lords to keep. He argues further that "all delights are vain" (I.i.72), even the pleasure of scholarship and books—he protests the oath not only because it is impractical but also because it is selfish and vain. Nevertheless, he signs the vow and claims that he will keep it best of all them. Then, he points out that the princess will soon arrive, forcing the king to break his oath immediately. Berowne's speech is full of the puns (or "quibbles" as they were called in Shakespeare's language) that characterize the play as a whole. He takes delight in disrupting whatever scene is at hand, criticizing everyone (including himself), and generally expounding upon every step of the play's action. He utters between a fifth and a quarter of the play's lines, and even at several moments takes over authority from the king himself. When the lords confess their loves in succession in Act IV, it is Berowne who witnesses the king's own confession and exposes his hypocrisy—and finally, it is Berowne who confesses his own love as well. The king's oath had provided a courtly bond among the men, but clearly had not done so...
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The play's clown is the first to break the court's rule against consorting with women. Don Armado catches him with Jaquenetta, has him arrested, and writes to the king reporting the clown's infraction. Costard gives his own oral version of his misdemeanor, defending it on the grounds that it was perfectly natural: "Such is the simplicity of man to hearken after the flesh" (I.i.217), he says. He thus highlights the ridiculous idealism of the king's academy. In addition, his monosyllabic interruptions during the reading of Armado's elaborate letter make the letter look equally ridiculous. Costard's language contains occasional malapropisms, or misused words, but for the most part he merely insists on a rhetorical simplicity that the other characters do not share. He mispronounces Armado's name as "Dun Adramadio" (IV.iii.l95) in a kind of unwitting mockery. His puns are so obvious that they make fun of the other characters' quibblings, as when he makes fun of legal language in I.i.205-11.
Everyone else considers Costard an entertaining commoner, and for the most part the other characters condescend to him (even while they engage his services in delivering their letters). Boyet refers to him as "a member of the common wealth'' (IV.i.41), or a commoner; Berowne calls him and Jaquenetta "turtles" (IV.iii.208) when they are slow in leaving the lords' company. In the Pageant of the Nine Worthies, however, Costard is the only actor to finish his part with...
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Dumaine is one of the king's lords, along with Berowne and Longaville, and falls in love with Katherine. His oath to the king in the opening scene is elaborately and recklessly self-sacrificial; whereas Longaville speaks of the mind's nourishment while the body pines, Dumaine says he is ''mortified''— that is, his flesh is in a sense killed, and the pleasures of the world are dead to him—''To love, to wealth, to pomp, I pine and die" (I.i.28-31). Katherine describes Dumaine, before they meet, as good-looking, young and a bit reckless with words because he is naive to the consequences of his speech: he has ''Most power to do most harm, least knowing ill" (II.i.58). It is as though he swears to the king's academy for the sound of the words as much as for their sense.
When he falls in love, Dumaine (unlike Longaville) is more interested initially in praising his lady's attractions than in worrying about breaking his oath. The breaking of the oath, in fact, becomes the reason for writing her a love poem—again, as if he is more interested in the words themselves than in expressing feeling to his beloved. His language repeats and inverts itself, and is least direct of all the lords' poetry: "Do not call it sin in me, / That I am forsworn for thee" (IV.iii.l 13-14). Later, during the Pageant of the Nine Worthies, Dumaine distinguishes himself in his cruelty to Holofernes, whom he calls "a Judas!" (IV.iii.596), making a punning joke on his character's name....
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France (Princess of France)
The princess of France is the moral center of the play. She arrives at the court of the king of France just after he and his lords have sworn an oath to remain celibate and study together in a courtly academy for three years. Because they also swear to avoid the company of women entirely for those three years, and the king issues a proclamation forbidding women in his court, the princess and her three ladies are forced to camp in a field on the grounds of the court rather than be lodged inside. The princess, who greets most of the play's actions with a practical and straightforward reasonableness, accepts these terms, but not without protest: ''The roof of this court is too high to be yours, and welcome to the wide fields too base to be mine" (II.i.93-94), she tells him. Her mission at his court is to resolve a dispute that arose between their fathers. Apparently they traded Aquataine, a French province, for a loan of money some time ago. Though the king of Navarre no longer wants Aquitaine, he does claim that the king of France owes him money in order to get the province back. The princess, as her father's diplomat, tells the king of Navarre that her father already paid him his money, and therefore Aquitaine should belong to France. The two disagree on the facts; their negotiations promise to take a few days; as a result, the princess and her ladies remain camped in the fields.
During the initial scene of negotiations (which are never resumed during the...
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The pedantic schoolteacher Holofernes, along with the parson Nathaniel, does not appear until late in the play (IV.ii). He speaks in lists of synonyms, words that have roughly the same meaning; he particularly likes Latin-sounding words and Latin tags. Holofernes is a kind of walking, talking thesaurus. He is usually an object of comedy within the play, although the curate Nathaniel treats him with fawning respect and imitates his language. He goes on at length about the death of one deer when the princess and her party are hunting (IV.ii). Later, he exhibits profound exasperation with Dull, the constable, who misunderstands most of Holofernes's pretentious language. Holofernes has a certain fawning tendency himself, exhibited in his desire to bring Berowne's misdirected letter straight to the king. He is also a bit hypocritical in his treatment of Armado, whom he mocks when Armado is offstage, but very soon praises in his presence (V.i).
There is a serious side to Holofernes as well, just as there are so often serious sides to Shakespeare's comic characters. With his love for synonyms and Latinisms, he takes his place among the other language-infatuated characters. Whereas Armado's language is elaborately courtly, as if he is trying to prove his aristocratic status, Holofernes's language is elaborately academic. More than Armado's, then, Holofernes's language has only a specialized audience (essentially, Nathanial) and therefore risks a kind of isolated...
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The king of Navarre is the leader of the so-called academy of lords, all of whom, at the play's opening, take a vow to be celibate and absorb themselves, in scholarship for three years. In the course of the play, however, he falls in love with the princess of France. The king is motivated at first by the desire to transcend the world of mortality: he wants to live forever in men's memories. He refers in his opening speech to "cormorant devouring Time" (I.i.4), as if time itself were a predatory creature. He seems to believe that only scholarship and study will bring time to a halt; that social life as a whole—and love in particular—threatens his own and others' autonomous and youthful existence. Thus not only his lords but he himself appears young, and naively idealistic, especially since the vow is immediately called into question. He has forbidden the academy to experience the company of women for three years. But the king, we are reminded from the beginning, is still a king. That is, he is the leader and ruler of a state. And as part of his political duties, he must receive and negotiate with a woman—the princess of France, who is to arrive immediately.
Even before the princess's arrival breaks the new law, though, Costard the clown is brought before the king for consorting with Jaquenetta. The king immediately punishes Costard—though not as brutally as the law threatens—by confining him to the care of Don Armado (himself, of course, in love...
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One of the princess's ladies, Rosaline is the unconventionally dark beauty who so appeals to Berowne. She is as full of wit as he is, and engages both Boyet and Berowne on their own terms; she challenges the other ladies in banter as well. Although she recalls having met Berowne from the beginning (II.i.67-76), she withholds any encouragement of his love, just as do the other ladies. Especially in the latter half of the play, Rosaline emerges as the most ruthlessly mocking, and at the same time, with the princess herself, the most overtly concerned with the proper and useful application of language. Even when Boyet teases her about being in love with Berowne, Rosaline refuses to admit that she may be, so her feelings for him never fully emerge. "Still you wrangle with her, Boyet," Maria observes, "and she strikes at the brow" (IV.i.117). When the ladies banter among themselves, Rosaline stands out as skillful in her use of language.
When the lords make their appearance in the Masque of the Muscovites, the princess dictates how the ladies will trick them. Rosaline plays the princess in the deception, and quibbles with the enamored king about the distance they have traveled and her own supposedly moon-like countenance, and then refuses to dance with him. Afterwards, Rosaline is more dismissive of the men than ever: ''They were all in lamentable cases!'' (V.ii.273) she cries. And here, she does take over a bit of the princess's role for real—but in a very...
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The princess's lord, Boyet acts as an intermediary between the lords and the ladies. Boyet is at least middle-aged, and carries gossip to and fro, both enabling and mocking love throughout the play. Katherine calls him "Cupid's grandfather" (II.i.253). Boyet introduces the princess onstage in II.i, where he praises her and urges her to negotiate well to acquire Aquitaine. He then goes to the court to announce his lady's arrival. When the king greets the princess and her train, his lords become smitten with her ladies, and each one approaches Boyet to ask his lady's name. Boyet is thus privy to their feelings from the beginning. He also notices the king's feelings for the princess. Boyet engages in the banter that the ladies share among themselves, but is generally treated fondly by them even as they tease him for his age. It is Boyet who recognizes the missent letter from Armado the Spanish courtier; he seems to know the court scene well. More importantly, he recognizes that Rosalind may be in love, and teases her about having been "hit" with Cupid's arrow (IV.i.118). Then, in the final scene of the play, it is Boyet who warns the ladies that the lords are approaching disguised as Russians for the Masque of the Muscovites. Boyet's mirth when he announces their foolish masquerade suggests that in spite of Katherine's accusation about his matchmaking tendencies, he looks down on the lords, and does not endorse any match-making; indeed, he helps the...
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