Ferdinand: The king of Navarre, Ferdinand wishes to turn his court into “a little Academe” and elicits an immature vow from his closest followers to remain with him for three years as celibate scholars. However, like his friends, he soon finds that his heart is not in such things, and that, in reality, such a cloistered life is neither educational nor enjoyable. In the end, Cupid is revenged and to do penance for his actions, the king must wait for a year before he is allowed to be united with his beloved, the princess of France.
Berowne: A lord attending the king, Berowne is the most outspoken of the four friends. Although he reluctantly takes the same vow as the other lords and the king, he is the first to express reservations about its efficacy and soon becomes a commentator on, and a critic of, the action and characters around him-and he quickly pairs off with the witty Rosaline. He is the most believable of the three lords, partly because of his qualities of eloquence, passion, and wit and partly because he is the one, along with the ladies, who leads the four gentlemen from frivolity to thoughtfulness.
Longaville: A lord attending the king, Longaville quickly forsakes the oath of chastity and seriousness and woos Maria.
Dumaine: A lord attending the king, Dumaine rounds out the group of four friends, and he, too, takes the oath but quickly forsakes it-in his case for the lovely Katherine.
Boyet: A lord attending the princess of France, Boyet acts as an advisor and a messenger between the princess and her ladies and the king and his friends.
Marcade: A lord attending the princess of France.
Don Adriano de Armado: “A fantastical Spaniard”, Don Armado is a parody of a courtly lover as he vies with the “clown” Costard for the favors of the country wench, Jaquenetta.
Sir Nathaniel: An elderly curate, Sir Nathaniel is the standard foolish old man of farce, but his and Holofernes's mutual affection warmly contrasts with the courtiers' emotionless point-scoring.
Holofernes (in the 2005 Festival production, Holofernia, a woman): A pedantic schoolmaster, Holofernes and Nathaniel provide a comic reflection of the sophisticated language of the other characters in the play.
Dull: A country constable, Dull's name describes him fully, placing him in sharp contrast with the genteel and witty central characters.
Costard: A clown, Costard is Don Armado's rival for the country wench, Jaquenetta.
Moth: A page to Don Armado, Moth is diminutive and sharp tongued.
The Princess of France: Sent by her father the king, the princess is high-spirited and witty, a perfect match for King Ferdinand. Before the match can be made, she, together with her ladies, chastises the young lords of Navarre for their rude behavior and their absurd rejection of the laws of love.
Rosaline: A lady attending the princess, Rosaline is nearest in seniority to the princess herself. As such, and especially as the object of Berowne's affection, she plays a major role in teaching the four men the realities of mature love.
Maria: A lady attending the princess, Maria is the object of Longaville's affections and helps the princess and the other two ladies confuse and teach the four suitors.
Katherine: A lady attending the princess and the object of Dumaine's affections, Katherine rounds out the group of four intelligent and witty women who spar with the four men, teach them about love, and eventually leave them for a year to think about love, responsibility, and reality.
Jaquenetta: The country wench loved by both Armado and Costard.