Resolved to make Navarre a country of learning and wisdom, the King of Navarre Ferdinand vows to dedicate his life to learning and self-deprivation, which will apply to all of Navarre for a 3 year period. Assisting him are the lords Longaville and Dumaine who subscribe to the ascetic measures which include avoiding the company of women, eating only one meal a day, and sleeping only 3 hours per night while dedicating their lives to intense study. As for Lord Berowne, he agrees to the learning aspect of the endeavor. Indeed, he ingeniously argues that if by learning one means learning that which is forbidden, learning to eat that which is forbidden, and learning to meet women who will otherwise be beyond his ken then he is all for learning. Needless to say, Berowne objects to the ascetic measures. Consequently, he is told that he may, if he wish, go home and live his life as before, compelling him to admit that he is objecting more in jest than in earnest. Indeed, Berowne wholly subscribe to the King's harsh measures. Presently, they espy an embassy which Berowne points out may be the French Princess regarding Aquitaine’s property rights in which case the King will be forced to break his oath. As it turns out, the embassy consists of Dull, a constable who is inclined to malapropisms, and Costard, a clown. Dull has a letter for the King from Don Adriano de Armado, a Spanish man of fashion whose fantastical stories of Spanish knights will be a source of entertainment for the King and his lords during their sequestration from worldly delights. The letter, however, has to do with an internal issue: Costard has consorted with the country wench Jaquenetta, violating the King’s edict. When questioned, Costard confesses that he has indeed consorted with Jaquenetta. Consequently, the King penalizes Costard, condemning him to a diet consisting of bran and water for the duration of a week. Costard laments this turn of events to no avail.
To drive away his melancholy, Don Adriano de Armado, who has promised to study 3 years with the King of Navarre Ferdinand and who is in love with the country wench Jaquenetta, enlists the services of his page Moth, who tries his best to oblige his master. Indeed, Moth flatters Armado, comparing Armado’s lovesick situation to Hercule’s and Sampson’s all the while making fun of his master with snide asides. Moth also cautions Armado in falling in love with a woman whose complexion is inclined to seesaw from red to white as red indicates that the woman has done something naughty and white indicates she is fearful for having done something wicked. Presently the constable Dull appears, accompanied by the clown Costard and the country wench Jaquenetta. Dull informs Armado that the king has sentenced Costard to a frugal diet that includes fasting 3x a week. Armado promises Costard that he—Armado—will ensure that Costad’s punishment will be strictly enforced. But that’s not all that Armado has in mind as he promises Jaquenetta, who will be confined to a dairy farm courtesy of Dull, that he will pay her a visit very soon. Indeed, when he is alone, Armado is inspired to write an entire book of love sonnets dedicated to Jaquenetta.