'Tis Pity She's a Whore

by

John Ford

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Themes and Colors
Passion, Lust, and Bloodlust Theme Icon
Desire vs. Duty Theme Icon
Injustice Theme Icon
Religious Piety vs. False Idols Theme Icon
Female Sexuality vs. Social Expectation Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in 'Tis Pity She's a Whore, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Desire vs. Duty Theme Icon

The Italy of ’Tis Pity demands the chastity and propriety of its citizens, strictly forbidding (among other things) incest, sex before marriage, and extramarital affairs. And yet, these forbidden relationships are the ones that Ford’s characters most desire. As a result, Ford portrays his characters as locked inside unresolvable conflicts between their desires and duties, doomed to disappoint themselves or others no matter what they choose.

The tension between desire and duty can best be tracked through the character of Giovanni, who is beholden to a wide range of duties—moral, familial, and social—that his desire for Annabella directly violates. Throughout the play he struggles with how to resolve the tensions created by his love, but each of his actions only further entangles him in a crisis of desire and duty. The Friar makes clear at the beginning of the play that having sex with Annabella would be a terrible sin and a rejection of Giovanni’s moral responsibilities. He tells Giovanni that even sleeping with another woman out of wedlock would be better if it could help Giovanni to avoid the worse sin of incest. But Giovanni cannot resist his desire for his sister and enters into a relationship with her in which they promise to love and remain true to each other—or, if not, to kill one another. Thus, his desire causes his first conflict of duty, posing the question of whether he is more obligated to stop his immoral relationship or to keep his vow of love. Both options reflect moral values, but he cannot uphold one without breaking the other. The Friar makes the solution seem simple, urging Giovanni to stop and repent, but Ford does not allow such black and white moral clarity to prevail.

Giovanni’s sinful relationship with Annabella is paralleled by Soranzo’s sinful relationship with Hippolyta, the married woman he bedded and promised to marry. However, unlike Giovanni, Soranzo chooses to break faith with his lover in order to keep faith with his God, refusing to fulfill his promise to Hippolyta once she is widowed because he believes the promise he made was wrong (but also, likely, because he simply wanted to bed her, and never intended to marry her). This decision is portrayed as deeply cruel toward Hippolyta and causes her to attempt revenge against him. This parallel relationship thus suggests to the audience that, were Giovanni to make the same choice as Soranzo and break his word to his lover, his actions would be equally condemnable. Thus, Giovanni’s initial indulgence of his desire only creates more duties he must juggle.

As Giovanni continues to give into his lust, he impregnates his sister, which creates a new problem. The only way for Annabella to hide her pregnancy is to quickly marry so that she appears to be pregnant by her husband. If Giovanni were not Annabella’s brother, social duty would obligate him to marry her (as he impregnated her). However, he cannot fulfill this social duty, since the law does not permit him to marry his own sister. Instead, she must marry someone else to save herself. However, when Annabella’s chosen husband (Soranzo) discovers her condition, Annabella’s reputation is threatened anyway. In this instance, the consequence of Giovanni’s desire—unintended pregnancy—forces him to choose between his duty as a brother and his fidelity to Annabella. Partly out of anger that she has broken off their affair, he decides to kill Annabella, which he frames as a way of protecting her from the scandalizing revelation of their affair. In committing this so-called honor killing, he fulfills the familial duty of protecting the family name, but in the process, betrays Annabella as a lover, surprising her mid-embrace with a knife in the chest. In the last scene, his anger overtakes even this protective impulse as he confesses his incestuous affair to the attendees of Soranzo’s banquet. Consistent with Giovanni’s other choices in the play, desire—this time for vengeance—outweighs other, more rational considerations. This revelation kills his father, who dies of heart break, showing the great damage Giovanni has caused as a son as well as brother.

Thus, Giovanni cannot escape from the tangled web of desire, moral duty, social duty, and familial duty. His downfall is mirrored in many of the other characters’ deaths, as Soranzo, Hippolyta, and Annabella all find themselves trapped in similarly irresolvable conflicts between duty and desire. The impossibility of untangling these webs shows that it is not only the moral weaknesses of the characters that are the problem. The absurdity of these conflicts of duty shows that the society in which the characters live is equally problematic, having given them few options. The result is a play that, without condoning the various desires that lead these characters astray, allows the audience to feel sympathy for them in the terrible fates they suffer for their actions.

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Desire vs. Duty Quotes in 'Tis Pity She's a Whore

Below you will find the important quotes in 'Tis Pity She's a Whore related to the theme of Desire vs. Duty.
Act 1, Scene 2 Quotes

On my knees,
Brother, even by our mother’s dust I charge you,
Do not betray me to your mirth or hate:
Love me, or kill me, brother.

Related Characters: Annabella (speaker), Giovanni
Related Symbols: Swords and daggers
Page Number: 1.2.247-250
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 2, Scene 1 Quotes

Nay, what a paradise of joy have you passed under! Why, now I commend thee, charge. Fear nothing, sweetheart. What, though he be your brother? Your brother’s a man, I hope; and I say still, if a young wench feel the fit upon her, let her take anybody: father or brother, all is one.

Related Characters: Puttana (speaker), Giovanni, Annabella
Page Number: 2.1.41-45
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 3, Scene 2 Quotes

Yet know –
Thus far I give you comfort – if mine eyes
Could have picked out a man, amongst all those
That sued to me, to make a husband of,
You should have been that man.

Related Characters: Annabella (speaker), Giovanni, Soranzo
Page Number: 3.2.49-53
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 3, Scene 4 Quotes

‘Twas well done, Giovanni: thou herein
Hast shown a Christian’s care, a brother’s love.

Related Characters: Florio (speaker), Giovanni, Annabella, Friar
Page Number: 3.4.32-33
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 5, Scene 5 Quotes

Kiss me. If ever after-times should hear
Of our fast-knit affections, though perhaps
The laws of conscience and of civil use
May justly blame us, yet when they but know
Our loves, that love will wipe away that rigour
which would in other incests be abhorred.

Related Characters: Giovanni (speaker), Annabella
Page Number: 5.5.68-73
Explanation and Analysis:

ANNABELLA: What means this?
GIOVANNI: To save thy fame, and kill thee in a kiss.
Stabs her [as they kiss].
Thus die, and die by me, and by my hand.
Revenge is mine, honour doth love command.

Related Characters: Giovanni (speaker), Annabella
Related Symbols: Swords and daggers
Page Number: 5.5.84-87
Explanation and Analysis: