Relationships: Falstaff and Doll (I’m of Two Minds)

In The First Part of Henry the Fourth, we had two and a half couples (Hotspur and Lady Percy, Mortimer and Glendower’s daughter, and Falstaff and Quickly). In The Second Part, we’ve got Hotspur’s mother and father, who exchange only a handful of lines. And that’s it for married couples.

Of course, we also have Falstaff, the admitted serial proposer. And yet it’s not a wife or even a fiancee with whom we see him most. It’s his “whore” (II.iv.), Doll Tearsheet. You’d think that this relationship would purely mercenary (and sure, there are hints of that as he asks, “What stuff wilt have a kirtle of? I shall receive money o’ Thursday” [II.iv.268-269]), but their relationship is surprisingly emotional.

He calls for her, “Sit on my knee, Doll” (II.iv.220). And once she’s there, she chides him for his ways:

when wilt thou leave fighting o' days and foining o' nights, and begin to patch up thine old body for heaven?

— II.iv.225-227

She wants him to take better care of himself, even if that means less “foining” at night–and while that has a definition of “stab(bing)” (Oxford English Dictionary Second Edition on CD-ROM [v. 4.0]), a more bawdy connotation is at play as well (thrusting with one’s more phallic blade). When Falstaff responds for her to stop “bid(ing him) remember (his) end” (II.iv.229), she immediately changes the subject to placate him.

Falstaff later asks her, “Kiss me, Doll” (II.iv.256), and she “give(s him) flattering busses” (II.iv.263) then, without hesitation, tells him,

By my troth, I kiss thee with a most constant heart.
I am old, I am old.
I love thee better than I love e'er a scurvy young boy of them all.

— II.iv.263-267

It’s a sweet moment, and I think only the most cynical would see this as mercenary whore-talk. Falstaff, however, is cynical and he suspects it, saying, “Thou’lt forget me when I am gone” (II.iv.271-272).

He may see it, but it’s hard for the audience to, especially when their good-bye is so poignant:

I cannot speak. If my heart be not ready to burst-- well, sweet Jack, have a care of thyself.
Farewell, farewell.

— II.iv.370-372

She cannot bear to even speak of her broken heart. It’s a touching good-bye, one to which the old man can add nothing.

This all sounds fine and good and loving, right?

If I were to stop there, I’d agree.

But I’m only stopping for the night… as for tomorrow…

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