The Princess shows her ladies a jewel that the King has sent her, and the four women discuss love. Katherine mentions her sister, who died of love. Rosaline tells them that she has received a letter from Berowne with verses and a picture of her. Katherine has received a letter and a pair of gloves from Dumaine, and Maria has received a letter and some pearls from Longaville.
Boyet arrives and tells the ladies that the King and his companions are on their way, dressed as Muscovites, to court their respective loves. The Princess tells her ladies to mask themselves and to switch favors, so that the men will "[W]oo contrary, deceived by these removes" (V.ii.135).
The men enter, and Moth makes a speech, during which Boyet interrupts him and Berowne corrects him. Rosaline, speaking as the Princess, asks what the strangers want, and the King tells her they want to converse with them. Each man takes turns appealing to the woman he thinks is his lady, and each pair converses apart. Rosaline tells them it is time to go, and the men leave. Each woman reveals that her respective man has pledged his love to her, and they note happily how gullible the men have turned out to be. They realize that the men will soon return, and thus they switch their favors back.
The men arrive, dressed as themselves again, and the King offers to bring the women to his court. However, the Princess tells him that she does not want him to break his oath, for "[n]or God, nor I, delights in perjured men" (V.ii.346). She then tells him that a group of Russians has recently visited, and Rosaline complains that the Russians were fools. The women reveal that the costumes did not fool them, and the King fears the men will endure mockery.
The King confesses that he was just there, in costume, and the Princess asks him what he told his lady. She warns him that he has to keep his oath, and he ensures her that he will. She then asks Rosaline what the Russian told her, and she repeats the words of the King. He says that he knew the Princess by the jewel on her sleeve, and the men realize the trick that the women played on them. Berowne realizes that "to our perjury to add more terror,/ We are again forsworn, in will and error" (V.ii.470-1).
Costard enters and asks the King if he would like the Worthies to begin their show. Berowne tells them to prepare, but the King worries that they will be shamed. Berowne tells him that "'tis some policy/ To have one show worse than the king's and his company" (V.ii.509-10). The Princess also expresses her desire to see the show, and so it begins.
Costard enters as Pompey, and Boyet mocks him during his speech. Berowne admires Boyet's mocking: "Well said, old mocker: I must needs be friends with thee" (V.ii.544). The Princess thanks him, and Nathaniel enters as Alexander. Boyet and Berowne mock him, but the Princess encourages him to continue. Berowne tells Pompey to take Alexander away, and Nathaniel exits. Holofernes and Moth enter as Judas Maccabeus and Hercules, respectively. Holofernes delivers a speech about Hercules, and Moth exits. Boyet, Berowne, Longaville, and Dumaine all mock Holofernes, and he complains that "[t]his is not generous, not gentle, not humble" (V.ii.623) and leaves. Armado enters as Hector and begins his speech, after being encouraged to do so by the Princess. While he is speaking, Costard enters and tells Armado that Jaquenetta is pregnant. Armado threatens to kill Costard, and he responds, "Then shall Hector be whipped for Jaquenetta that is/ quick by him and hang'd for Pompey that is dead by/ him" (V.ii.692-4). Armado challenges Costard, and the rivals prepare to fight.
A messenger named Mercadé enters and tells the Princess that he has news of her father. Even before he tells her, she realizes that he is dead, and Berowne commands the Worthies away. The Princess thanks the King and his lords for their entertainment and tells him that they will leave that night. He entreats her to stay, and the men once again appeal to their ladies for love. The Princess tells the King that he should become a hermit for twelve months and then seek her again, and Katharine and Maria tell Dumaine and Longaville that they will receive them again in one year under similar conditions. Rosaline tells Berowne that he must spend one year using his wit to make the sick smile. He tells her, "it is impossible:/ Mirth cannot move a soul in agony" (V.ii.849-50). She insists, however, and he agrees.
As the women are about to depart, Armado enters and asks the King if they can perform the song that would have been sung at the conclusion of their play. He gives permission, and the cast of the play re-enters to perform a song of winter and spring.
Katherine's mention of her sister, who has died of love, starts the audience thinking about death and subtly foreshadows the news of the King's death.
Rosaline, acting as the Princess, once again illustrates the women's literal interpretation of language when the King says they have measured many miles in their journey. She tells Boyet to "[a]sk them how many inches/ Is in one mile: if they have measured many,/ The measure then of one is easily told" (V.ii.188-90). The Princess, acting as Rosaline, responds to Berowne's request for "one sweet word with thee" with "Honey, and milk, and sugar, there is three" (V.ii.230-1).
Berowne's frustration with the women's literal treatment of language finally comes to a climax, and he swears off all poetical techniques for wooing: "Taffeta phrases, silken terms precise,/ Three-piled hyperboles, spruce affectation,/ Figures pedantical; these summer-flies/ Have blown me full of maggot ostentation:/ I do forswear them; and I here protest,/ By this white glove--how white the hand, God knows!--/ Henceforth my wooing mind shall be exprest/ In russet yeas and honest kersey noes." (V.ii.406-13) Berowne has not sworn off wit altogether, however, as he happily admires and then joins Boyet's mocking of the actors in the play of the Nine Worthies.
The behavior of Boyet and the King's lords during the show of the Nine Worthies might help to reveal the behavior of typical Elizabethan theater audiences. It was common practice for audiences to talk during plays, and Shakespeare might use the characters in Love's Labour's Lost to illustrate his audiences' rudeness. Regardless, this marks another difference between men and women in the play, since only the men act rudely to the actors. The Princess is very polite, only speaking to thank and encourage the actors, and the rest of her ladies do not speak at all during the play.
Note that during the lords' commentary on the play, they frequently interchange the names of the men with the characters they portray. This is especially evident during the argument between Costard and Armado, when the men encourage Pompey and Hector to fight.
At the end of the play, Berowne notes that the play does not end like a typical comedy: "Our wooing doth not end like an old play;/ Jack hath not Jill. . ." (V.ii.867-8). The King reassures him that "it wants a twelvemonth and a day,/ And then 'twill end;" however, Berowne adds, "[t]hat's too long for a play" (V.ii.870-1). With this statement, he refers to Aristotle's archetypal dramatic conventions, which dictated that a play observe the three unities: unity of time, place, and action. Berowne rightly points out that a time span of a year is too long for a play to observe all three unities.