Dorothy and Ursula: the Names of Dames

yes, I’m perfectly aware that Lady Percy, Hotspur’s wife, had a name in The First Part: Kate. But that’s not referenced at any point in this play…

The Second Part of Henry the Fourth depicts two non-noblewomen, Mistress Quickly (a holdover from The First Half) and Doll Tearsheet. Unlike the noblewomen (Northumberland’s wife and daughter-in-law), at least one (if not both) of our common women have first names.

In Act Two, Scene Four, the tavern sequence, Pistol twice refers to Tearsheet as “Mistress Dorothy” (II.iv.115 and 121), and this makes total sense as “Doll” was a common British nickname for the full name Dorothy.

It’s Mistress Quickly’s name that is of lesser certainty of greater interest in its background.

At the end of Act One, Scene Two, Falstaff speaks of

old Mistress Ursula, whom I have weekly sworn to marry since I perceived the first white hair on my chin

— I.ii.234-236

Later, just two scenes later, Mistress Quickly accuses Falstaff,

Thou didst swear to me then, as I was washing thy wound, to marry me and make me my lady thy wife. Canst thou deny it?

— II.i.88-90

I find it difficult to believe that Shakespeare would place these references so close to each other within the context of the play without some purpose. Now, while the purpose could be to link Quickly with the name Ursula, I doubt it (otherwise, Quickly would have stated that the proposal was “weekly”). Instead, I would posit that this lays the groundwork for Falstaff’s ridiculous and adulterously amorous correspondence in the non-historical Falstaff sequel, The Merry Wives of Windsor. It only makes sense since Quickly herself refers to Falstaff as “a woman-queller” (II.i.52), a lady-killer, a seducer. Even if he had once proposed to her, Quickly knows he’s a man who cannot be tamed, explaining her questioning of Falstaff as to whether he will “have Doll Tearsheet meet (him) for supper” (159-160), later in the same scene.

So if Quickly is not Ursula, then who is? I don’t know, but I find WHAT Ursula is even more interesting.

Saint Ursula was a British saint. According to legend, she sailed to meet with her pagan husband-to-be (Falstaff as pagan… that works) with 11,000 virgin ladies-in-waiting. Because a storm blew them to their destination in the miraculous period of just a single day, she decided to make a per-marital pilgrimage. She never made it there: she and her party were slaughtered by Huns.

Ursula was the caretaker of 11,000 virgins, a Falstaffian wet-dream if there ever was one.

of course, since much is made of the possibility of Quick-LAY running a bawdy house, maybe there is an ironic link between her and our seemingly absent Ursula…

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