'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.
Injustice Theme Icon

Throughout the play, characters seek recourse and revenge for various wrongs them (including incest, infidelity, and murder) and turn to systems of justice both official and unofficial. However, in seeking retribution, these systems of justice prove ineffective, as the men who supposedly administer justice prove immoral and corrupt themselves, thereby complicating the moral message of the play. The woeful inadequacy of all systems of justice in the play ultimately suggests that the social norms and legal rules that govern human behavior can be just as corrupt as the “unjust” behaviors they are intended to punish.

The play portrays unofficial systems of justice—or vigilante justice—as imprecise and excessively bloody, and the characters who attempt to attain vigilante justice are discredited by their failures, both tactical and moral. The problems with vigilante justice are most clearly shown through the character of Grimaldi who attempts to settle his rivalry with Soranzo over Annabella by attacking Soranzo in the dead of night. However, he mistakes Bergetto—a silly young man and former suitor who was already refused by Annabella—for Soranzo, and Grimaldi accidentally murders an innocent man. Grimaldi’s failed plan to kill Soranzo is in fact born out of another character’s attempts to enact vigilante justice, as it was Richardetto (the husband of Hippolyta) who convinced Grimaldi to attack Soranzo in the first place—an attempt to get revenge against Soranzo for seducing his wife. When Richardetto sees the violence he has caused, he feels remorse at his part in an innocent man’s death and voices the play’s position on individuals seeking their own justice: that it is far better to allow God to enact justice than to try to bring it about yourself. As Richardetto and Grimaldi’s failed plot shows, vigilante justice is prone to human error and can lead to even worse moral crimes than the original transgression.

Though vigilante justice fails at restoring moral order, Ford suggests that official systems of justice are hardly any better. The problems with the official systems become clear when Bergetto’s uncle Donado seeks justice for his nephew’s murder only to find that the two entities with any legal power in Italy—the state and the church—undermine each other’s authority. After committing the murder, Grimaldi runs to the Cardinal’s estate to hide. The officers pursuing Grimaldi do not have power to reach him on church grounds, rendering them powerless to fulfill their function in maintaining law and order. Instead Florio and Donado, private citizens, must knock at the Cardinal’s door and ask for Grimaldi to be turned over to them to receive punishment. The Cardinal refuses on the grounds that Grimaldi is of noble blood. In this instance, the official representatives of the state are unable to enforce justice, because the power of another authority—the church—interferes. Thus, the proper officers of the law are shown to be powerless, while the church and the nobility it protects are shown to have too much power, causing the wheels of justice to come to a grinding halt.

Ironically, the only people in the play who successfully carry out a mission of justice, vigilante or otherwise, are the Banditti, who are themselves criminals. Soranzo employs them to help him get revenge for the shame he suffers as a result of Annabella’s indiscretion. However, the form their justice takes is extremely brutal. Their ambush of Giovanni at the banquet results in a stage full of dead bodies, and their revenge against Puttana involves putting out her eyes, which seems excessively violent even as it accomplishes the purpose of punishing her for her role in helping Giovanni and Annabella continue their secret affair. Thus, the only successful arbiters of justice are shown to be criminals, and particularly cruel ones at that.

Although the society depicted in the play has complex and strict social norms that purport to uphold moral behavior, these norms lead to immoral behavior and further bloodshed as various characters attempt to take justice into their own hands. Appealing to official channels of justice proves utterly useless, as Parma’s toothless and corrupt legal system renders the society essentially lawless. In the face of such frail systems of justice, Ford suggests, humans must trust in God to enact justice in His own way rather than pursuing it themselves. Thus, Ford’s deep cynicism about the capability of humans to administer justice impartially reveals his belief that humans must trust in a higher moral authority to answer the more complex moral dilemmas of life.

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Injustice 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 Injustice.
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 7 Quotes

Now guide my hand, some angry Justice,
Home to his bosom.

Related Characters: Grimaldi (speaker), Soranzo, Bergetto
Related Symbols: Swords and daggers
Page Number: 3.7.6-7
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 3, Scene 9 Quotes

DONADO: Is this a churchman’s voice? Dwells Justice here?
FLORIO: Justice is fled to heaven and comes no nearer.
[…]
FLORIO: Come, come, Donado, there’s no help in this,
When cardinals think murder’s not amiss.
Great men may do their wills; we must obey.
But heaven will judge them for’t another day.

Related Characters: Florio (speaker), Donado (speaker), Bergetto, Grimaldi, The Cardinal
Page Number: 3.9.93-97
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 4, Scene 1 Quotes

Burn, blood, and boil in vengeance. Oh, my heart!
My flame’s intolerable! – May’st thou live
To father bastards; may her womb bring forth
Monsters; and die together in your sins,
Hated, scorned and unpitied!

Related Characters: Hippolita (speaker), Annabella, Soranzo
Page Number: 4.1.60-61, 64-67
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 4, Scene 3 Quotes

Yet will I not forget what I should be,
And what I am: a husband. In that name
Is hid divinity. If I do find
That thou wilt yet be true, here I remit
All former faults, and take thee to my bosom.

Related Characters: Soranzo (speaker), Giovanni, Annabella, Vasquez
Page Number: 4.3.135-139.
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: