The King of Navarre persuades three friends to join him in a vow of celibacy so that they can concentrate on their studies, but the beautiful princess of France and her three gorgeous ladies in waiting arrive for an informal visit.
The RSC commemorates the centenary of the First World War and updates the play to 1914. Summer 1914. In order to dedicate themselves to a life of study, the King and his friends take an oath to avoid the company of women for three years. No sooner have they made their idealistic pledge than the Princess of France and her ladies-in-waiting arrive, presenting the men with a severe test of their high-minded resolve. Shakespeare's sparkling comedy delights in championing and then unravelling an unrealistic vow, and mischievously suggesting that the study of the opposite sex is in fact the highest of all academic endeavours. Only at the end of the play is the merriment curtailed as the lovers agree to submit to a period apart, unaware that the world around them is about to be utterly transformed by the war to end all wars.