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Act IV, Scene 2
This scene introduces two new characters - Holofernes, who is a pedantic schoolteacher, and Sir Nathaniel, who is a curate that is greatly impressed with the bookish knowledge of Holofernes. These two, along with the constable Dull, are involved in an utterly senseless debate on the age of the deer killed by the princess. With pomposity, Holofernes draws every excessive word and phrase out of the subject that he can, in an attempt to sound learned and educated. The conversation continues in almost a slapstick manner as the other characters mis-hear and misunderstand each other completely.
Jaquenetta enters with Costard, who still bears the letter that was intended for Rosaline. She greets the curate and asks him to read the letter for her, thinking it is from Armado. The letter, instead, contains Biron's gracious poem to Rosaline. Holofernes tries to sound intelligent as he dissects and criticizes the poem, stating it has little literary merit. He then tries to show his own flashy and educated use of language, sounding much less graceful than the poem he has criticized. He finally advises Jaquenetta to take the letter to the king to explain the error of the mis-delivered letter from Biron.
When Jaquenetta and Costard leave, Holofernes invites Nathaniel to dine with him at his pupil's house, where he promises to show the poor construction of the verses he considers "very unlearned." He then extemporizes on his own, using extremely excessive alliteration. Nathaniel eagerly accepts the invitation, calling Holofernes "a rare talent".
This scene opens with a ridiculous conversation between Holofernes, Nathaniel, and Dull. They are arguing over the deer that the princess has shot, but their communication is marked by word plays and misunderstandings. The rest of the scene is characterized by an impressive display of pedantic exhibition. Holofernes uses every opportunity afforded him to spill out big words and complicated phrases, trying to show off the learning of which he is so proud. The dialogue is heavy, and even Dull's riddle, a favorite device with Elizabethan audiences, fails to lighten the conversation. The pleasure derived from the scene comes from the satire suggested through the lofty and excessive use of language. Holofernes, like Armado, loves words and exaggerates everything he speaks. Ironically, neither Dull nor the curate can follow Holofernes' pretentious conversation.
When Nathaniel reads the letter written by Biron and intended for Rosaline, Holofernes, in typical fashion, uses pedantic language to dissect and criticize the verse. He then proceeds to create his own poetry, and the audience quickly recognizes that it is of a far inferior quality to that written by Biron. At the end of the scene, he sends Jaquenetta off to the King to show him the love letter that Biron has written to Rosaline. The audience anticipates seeing the King's reaction to the fact that Biron has obviously broken his vows by revealing his feelings for Rosaline.
It is obvious in the scene that Shakespeare has great scorn for pedants; by ridiculing them in the play, he is really criticizing some of his showy contemporaries, who love to sound important by using big words and exotic phrases.