Berowne enters, carrying a paper that contains a poem to Rosaline. He hears someone else coming and hides. The King enters in a love-induced swoon and reads from a poem he has written. Berowne is surprised to learn that the King is also in love. The King hears Longaville approaching, also reading, and hides. Longaville enters, speaks of his love for Maria, and begins to read from a poem he has written. He hides when he hears another approaching, and Dumaine enters, moaning longingly for Kate. He reads an ode that he has written, and laments that his friends do not share his suffering.
Longaville advances to chide Dumaine, and, at this, the King advances and reveals that he has heard of Longaville's love for Maria. He scolds the two lords for breaking their oath and asks, "[W]hat will Berowne say when that he shall hear/ A faith infringed, which such zeal did swear?" (IV.iii.143-4). Berowne advances and asks the King, "what grace hast thou, thus to reprove/ These worms for loving, that art most in love?" (IV.iii.151-2). He reprimands the three men for breaking their oath and says, "I, that am honest; I, that hold it sin/ To break the vow I am engaged in;/ I am betray'd, by keeping company/ With men like you, men of inconstancy" (IV.iii.175-8).
Jaquenetta and Costard enter with the letter, telling the King that it amounts to treason. He gives Berowne the letter to read, and Berowne tears it up upon recognizing it as his verses to Rosaline. Dumaine finds a piece of the letter with Berowne's name on it, and Berowne confesses that he, too, is in love. The four men begin to argue about which of their loves is the most beautiful.
The King realizes that they are all in love "and thereby all forsworn" (Berowne, IV.iii.280). He asks Berowne to "prove/ Our loving lawful, and our faith not torn" (IV.iii.281-2). Berowne makes a long speech in which he argues that to look at a woman is the best way to learn beauty. He decides, therefore, that their scholarship oath led them further away from true study. The King seems to accept this argument, and they resolve to woo the women.
This scene illustrates the use of the aside, a common technique in Shakespearean drama. An aside occurs when one of the characters is supposedly hidden and speaks to the audience without being heard by the other characters. It is indicated by placing the word aside in parentheses after the character's name and before their speech; an aside allows the audience to observe the characters observing each other. This technique is used to a comedic extent in this scene when three characters, in turn, are hidden and revealed.
Berowne comments on his role as the first to hide: "All hid, all hid, an old infant play./ Like a demigod here sit I in the sky,/ And wretched fools' secrets heedfully o'er-eye" (IV.iii.76-8). Here he specifically mentions overhearing and witnessing the secrets of his friends, fulfilling the primary function of the aside as a plot device. Berowne refers to his friends as "wretched fools," even though he finds himself in exactly the same situation.
Each of the lords, in turn, tries to hide his own love and to scold his companions for breaking the oath. This might seem somewhat surprising, however, given how eager they are to have company in their misery. The King rejoices when he sees Longaville, celebrating "sweet fellowship in shame!" (IV.iii.47), and Berowne notes that "[o]ne drunkard loves another of the name" (IV.iii.48). Dumaine later wishes that the King, Berowne, and Longaville were lovers too, "[f]or none offend where all alike do dote" (IV.iii.124).
Berowne's argument for accommodating love into the scholarship oath is the best example in Love's Labour's Lost of taking wit, rhetoric, and reasoning to ridiculous extremes. Shakespeare shows how reasoning and rhetoric can justify almost any desired conclusion. The King and his lords reveal the shallowness of wordplay and the dubiousness of scholarshipand the intellectual life.