Berowne is witty, opinionated, and argumentative. He is the only one of the King of Navarre's oath-taking lords to argue against its strict abstinence, saying that taking an oath to avoid women, fast often, and sleep little makes it certain that the king and his lords will soon be forsworn (break their oaths). He is absolutely correct—the oath breaking begins almost immediately. Berowne himself is the first to be forsworn as he falls immediately for the feisty Rosaline, who proves to be more than able to meet his verbal sparring with jabs of her own. Berowne is a master of rhetoric—in fact he can employ the language of argument and logic with such skill he can make things sound as if they make sense even when they make little sense at all. This ability with language ultimately gets in the way of his ability to actually express himself, leading Rosaline to make him promise to simplify his language.
King of Navarre
The King of Navarre begins the play by calling for his three friends to join him a three-years' fast from worldly pleasures, including women. He wants to establish Navarre as an oasis of scholarship, yet his aim is not for intellectual pursuit only. His underlying goal is to achieve great fame and to make Navarre "the wonder of the world." However, as Berowne soon points out there are all manner of flaws in this plan—the most important being that the Princess of France is due to arrive on a diplomatic mission from her father. The king, of course, is required by diplomacy to receive and entertain the princess and other guests. This simple conflict between the king's intentions and the practical outcome of his actions sets up the main plot of the play. One by one the king's lords—and the king—succumb to temptation and break their oaths.
Rosaline accompanies the Princess of France on her visit to Navarre and is the most differentiated of the three ladies. She is paired with Berowne, and the match is a good one since Rosaline proves to be as clever as Berowne. Her quick wit is immediately on display as she engages in a back-and-forth battle of verbal one-liners with Berowne as soon as they meet. She sees his verbosity for what it is—a way to avoid saying plainly what he feels—and tells him he needs to simplify his language, saying what he means without embellishment. In an attempt to help Berowne become a kinder, more mature person, she tells him he must spend a year visiting the sick in order to win her love.
Princess of France
The arrival of the Princess of France is the beginning of the end of the King of Navarre's restraint. Not only does she bring three ladies along who win the affections of the king's three lords, the princess herself is a perfect match for the king. She is the picture of grace, charm, and wisdom. In many ways she embodies the ideals to which the king aspires: intelligence and restraint. She is a well-balanced character, with a sense of humor but also a sense of responsibility. She willingly participates in teasing the lords, but in the end when she receives news of her father's death she soberly decides that she will wait a year to pursue any romance. It is this decision that suddenly changes the tone of the play from lighthearted to somber.
Don Adriano de Armado, a Spaniard referred to as "braggart" in Shakespeare's stage directions, is dramatic and ostentatious. His name, a reference to the 1588 failed attack of the Spanish Armada on England, suggests he presents the image of grandiosity when, in reality, he is far less impressive. The audience first encounters Armado through his letter to the king reporting Costard's interaction with Jaquenetta. The language of the letter is beyond ridiculous. Like Berowne he uses so many words it is often difficult to find the sense of them; unlike Berowne he relies on long sentences full of overly complicated and flowery phrases rather than the scholarly language of argument and rhetoric.