'Tis Pity She's a Whore

by

John Ford

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Female Sexuality vs. Social Expectation Theme Analysis

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.
Female Sexuality vs. Social Expectation Theme Icon

The women of ’Tis Pity give in to the various men who beg them for sex, but they do not themselves initiate relationships out of wedlock. Despite this, they suffer the most for their actions—an unfortunate irony. The importance of sexual modesty in the society they live in is one of the great injustices of the play, as it constitutes an obvious double standard around male and female sexuality. By highlighting how disproportionately women are punished for their sins while their male partners go swithout punishment for the same transgressions, Ford invites the audience to sympathize with the women who are labeled “whores,” portraying them as victims of a hypocritical society.

Annabella is partly drawn into an incestuous relationship with her brother because of the immense pity she feels for his agony. Although she does not initiate the relationship, she is far more endangered by it socially than he is. Her pregnancy—visible proof of her affair—means that while Giovanni’s sins can remain hidden, hers will become obvious as soon as she begins to show. Even though no one will know that the father is her brother, the rules of her society dictate that once she is discovered to not be a virgin, her reputation will be ruined, even though the same rules do not apply to Giovanni or her suitor Soranzo. To try to hide her affair and bring her pregnancy into line with social expectation, she agrees to marry Soranzo, since she cannot marry her brother. In this way, she guarantees that her child will be born into a marriage, even though Soranzo is not the man who impregnated her. However, when Soranzo discovers Annabella’s pregnancy, he becomes angry that she was not a virgin when he married her, even though he himself had an affair with Hippolita before he married Annabella. When Annabella repents for her relationship with her brother and breaks off their affair, however, Giovanni becomes suddenly concerned about saving her reputation and he kills her. Thus, she is punished both for her sexual relationship with Giovanni and for her marriage to Soranzo which she used to protect the secret of her incestuous affair. She is also punished both for having a relationship with her brother and for ending her relationship with him. Unlike Giovanni, Annabella ultimately repented and accepted the painful consequences of her affair, and yet it is she and not Giovanni who is called a whore. In the final line of the play when the Cardinal declares it a “pity she’s a whore,” Ford is highlighting the absurd gap between his casual dismissal of her illicit sexuality and the authentic moral struggle Annabella underwent as she tried to juggle her pledge of fidelity to her brother, her marriage vows, and her duty to God.

Hippolita is placed in a similarly unfair situation by Soranzo and the rest of society. Even though both she and Soranzo engage in an affair at Soranzo’s behest, only Hippolita is shunned by society once that affair is discovered. They both plot to get rid of her husband Richardetto so that Hippolita can marry Soranzo. However, once Richardetto is gone, Soranzo refuses to uphold his end of the bargain, and rebuffs her. By refusing to marry her, he ruins her reputation, but does not damage his own in the process. Her pursuit of revenge in the wake of this betrayal leads to her own death. Soranzo thus lures Hippolita into an affair that he can escape without censure, but for which she will suffer fatal consequences. Puttana also suffers as a result of this double standard without even having a sexual relationship, but merely by virtue of knowing about Annabella’s. She is gagged, blinded, and burned to death for her complicity in Annabella and Giovanni’s incestuous relationship, but the Friar, who also knew of their relationship, leaves for Bologna without facing any consequences. The only woman in the play who is not killed is Philotis, Richardetto’s niece and the fiancé of Bergetto. Escaping to a convent after Bergetto’s death, she avoids the sexual traps the men of the play create for their paramours by renouncing sexual relationships all together.

It would be easy to assume that, because Ford’s female characters suffer harsher punishments than the male characters for the same sexual sins, Ford believes women are deserving of greater condemnation. However, the care he takes to portray men as the instigators of these illicit relationships and to show the unfairness of the standards to which women are held suggests that he sees women as equally capable of sin even as they are victims of a hypocritical society’s harsh double standards.

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Female Sexuality vs. Social Expectation 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 Female Sexuality vs. Social Expectation.
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 2, Scene 2 Quotes

Do you know me now? Look, perjured man, on her
Whom thou and thy distracted lust have wronged.
Thy sensual rage of blood hath made my youth
A scorn to men and angels;

Related Characters: Hippolita (speaker), Soranzo
Page Number: 2.2.25-29
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 2, Scene 5 Quotes

Marriage? Why, that’s to damn her; that’s to prove
Her greedy of variety of lust.

Related Characters: Giovanni (speaker), Annabella, Friar
Page Number: 2.5.41-42
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 3, Scene 2 Quotes

These scornful taunts
Neither become your modesty or years.

Related Characters: Soranzo (speaker), Annabella
Page Number: 3.2.37-38
Explanation and Analysis:

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

RICHARDETTO: Her sickness is a fullness of her blood –
You understand me?
FLORIO: I do – you counsel well –
And once within these few days will so order’t
She shall be married, ere she know the time.

Related Characters: Florio (speaker), Richardetto (speaker), Annabella, Soranzo
Page Number: 3.4.8-11
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 4, Scene 2 Quotes

Your chaste and single life shall crown your birth:
Who dies a virgin lives a saint on earth.

Related Characters: Richardetto (speaker), Philotis
Page Number: 4.2.28-27
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 5, Scene 6 Quotes

We shall have time
To talk at large of all; but never yet
Incest and murder have so strangely met.
Of one so young, so rich in Nature’s store,
Who could not say, ‘’Tis pity she’s a whore’?

Related Characters: The Cardinal (speaker), Annabella
Page Number: 5.5.153-156
Explanation and Analysis: