Who is the Real Whore of Parma? – Representation of Women in Ford’s "'Tis Pity She’s a Whore"

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2010

21 Pages, Grade: 1,3


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. The Relevance of the Play’s Title
2.1 Analysis of the Last Scene
2.2 Analysis of the Title

3. Representation of Women
3.1 Women in Jacobean Tragedies
3.2 Women in ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore
3.3 Annabella – The Whore of the Play?

4. The Role of Society

5. Conclusion

6. Bibliography

1. Introduction

Not only because of its provoking title, ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore can be described as John Ford’s most controversial play (Anderson 92). The play’s main plot portrays the passionate but forbidden love between the siblings Giovanni and Annabella. Moreover, ‘Tis Pity is an extraordinary violent play with “… several vivid action sequences” (Abate 94). All in all, there are five murder victims, Annabella’s tutress Putana is blinded, and her father Florio drops dead. The play reaches its brutal climax when Giovanni enters the feast with Annabella’s heart on his dagger. Nonetheless, the Cardinal does only blame one person for what has happened in the course of the play: “Of one so young, so rich in Nature’s store, | Who could not say, ‘Tis Pity she’s a whore?” (V.vi.158-159). The Cardinal’s final condemnation seems to be “… unnecessarily vindictive” (Hopkins ix) because Annabella has not only repented of her sins, but she was also killed by her brother and her heart was displayed on his dagger. Besides, Corinne S. Abate points out that there are several other characters “… who could claim this denunciation and our pity” (Abate 94).

The phrase ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore is not only the title of Ford’s controversial play but also its last line. This aspect suggests that the phrase deserves special attention (Hopkins x). Therefore, this paper concentrates on the title of Ford’s play and tries to answer the question why Ford has chosen such a strong title for his work. Furthermore, the title’s effect on the play’s reception is taken into account. These observations are essential to find out about Ford’s intention of selecting this particular title.

The first part of this term paper provides an analysis of the play’s last scene and particularly its last line. By this, the first part constitutes the basis for further investigations of the title’s meaning. The word ‘whore’ is a “… female-specific epithet” (Abate 98). Therefore, the Cardinal’s condemnation of Annabella arouses the question how the other female characters are depicted in the play. Thus, the second part of this paper concentrates on the representation of female characters in Ford’s play. These observations are related to general pattern of characterizing women in Jacobean drama. Furthermore, the second part focuses on the portrayal of Annabella and on the question why she is made the whore of the play. Abate nominates Parma’s society “… as the only whore to which the title should

refer” (109). This thesis is scrutinized in the third part of this paper by analysing the play’s subplots and the Cardinal’s role in the play.

2. The Relevance of the Play’s Title

‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore is not only the play’s title but also it’s last line. By this, the phrase connects the play’s plot with its title. Therefore, it is essential to examine the play’s title and the last scene in order to lay the basis for further investigations concerning the deeper meaning of the title.

2.1 Analysis of the Last Scene

“The moral chaos of the last scenes …” (Stavig 119) reaches its climax when Giovanni enters Soranzo’s birthday banquet with Annabella’s heart on his dagger (V.vi). He reveals their incestuous relationship and their father Florio dies of shame. Giovanni stabs Soranzo with his dagger, whereupon he is killed by Soranzo’s loyal servant Vasques. Following the tradition of other Renaissance plays (Abate 96), it is the Cardinal’s task to restore order in Parma. Based on Vasques’ statements the Cardinal decides on punishments for the characters who were involved in the forbidden relationship. First, Vasques informs the Cardinal that he has already punished Putana, Annabella’s tutress, by blinding and imprisoning her.

… First, this woman, chief in these effects, My sentence is that forthwith she be ta’en Out of the city, for example’s sake,

There to be burnt to ashes. (V.vi.132-134)

This judgement is the Cardinal’s reaction on Putana’s indirect involvement in the incestuous relationship. For Lisa Hopkins it does not become clear if Putana or Annabella’s body is meant by “…this woman, chief in these effects[1]” (ix). Therefore, she describes this phrase as “… one notorious ambiguity” (Hopkins ix) in Ford’s play. For Derek Roper, however, it seems more likely that the Cardinal’s judgement is directed to Putana “… whose guilt has just been disclosed” (Roper 121) by Vasques (124-125).

During the course of his final judgement, the Cardinal moreover banishes Vasques from Parma (140-144) and he confiscates the properties of all murder victims (148-150). In his final sentences, the Cardinal underlines who is to blame for the incestuous relationship and the misery connected to it:

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? (V.VI.155-159)

The first part of this statement (155-157) can be described as a general observation. The Cardinal is scandalized by this strange combination of “Incest and murder” (157) which is a natural human reaction to the events he has just witnessed. Nonetheless, his last line “…alludes to a particular individual” (Abate 98). The Cardinal does only blame Annabella for the incest drama without asking any questions (Abate 98). At this point, the offensive word ‘whore’ appears as a summary of the Cardinal’s judgements in which the women are blamed most. Vasques, who has poisoned Hippolita, blinded Putana and killed Giovanni, is ‘only’ banished from Parma. On the contrary, Putana is sentenced to death and the dead Annabella is condemned as a whore. As another evidence for the fact that the Cardinal might not mean Annabella’s corpse with the phrase “…this woman, chief in these effects” (132), Roper states that “… it is hard to see why her corpse should be burned and not Giovanni’s” (121). Similarly, Marion Lomax argues that it was Giovanni who “… instigated the affair but it is Annabella who receives the Cardinal’s final condemnation” (xviii). Nonetheless, Giovanni’s part in the incestuous affair seems to be of secondary importance. The dying Florio, for instance, calls his son a “Cursèd man! (61), the Cardinal describes Giovanni as “Monster of Children” (63), and Donado comments Giovanni’s death with “Strange miracle of justice!” (108). These short phrases, however, stand in contrast to the final, more detailed condemnation of Annabella.

2.2 Analysis of the Title

In the play’s epistle[2], which was addressed to John Mordaunt[3], it becomes obvious that John Ford himself felt unsure about the risqué title of his work: “The gravity of the subject may easily excuse the lightness of the title: otherwise I had been a severe judge against mine own guilt” (Roper 4). With this comment, John Ford seems to apologize for the unusual title of his work. Apparently, it seems to be necessary for him to explain why he decided for this particular title. With the expression “gravity of the subject” (Roper 4), Ford certainly refers to his treatment of incest which is a taboo subject. The phrase “lightness of the title” (Roper 4), however, is interpreted in different ways, but its

traditional reading is frivolity[4] (Abate 96; Roper 4). Thus, Ford’s comment could mean

that the play’s title establishes an antithetical relationship to the play’s subject and its plot. For Ford, the play’s title seems to be appropriate because of this paradox and he “would not have approved the use of licentious title in a less serious play” (Wiggins qtd. in Abate 96: 43). Furthermore, “lightness of the title” (Roper 4) might also imply that Ford does not take the title seriously and that is has an ironic connotation (Stavig 120). To sum up, it is important to note that Ford’s direct comment underlines the title’s relevance which seems to be connected to the play’s overall meaning.

In Derek Roper’s and Marion Lomax’s edition of the play, the last phrase ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore is italicized, “... as if it were a title, self-referencing the very play that has just been performed” (Abate 94). Roper assumes that the phrase could be “…a quotation or common saying” (Roper 4) because in a later work by Richard Head[5] it also appears italicized. Nonetheless, it might also be possible that phrase is an intertextual connection between both plays because Ford’s play “…was revived at the Restoration” (Roper 4). The fact that the phrase appears not only as the play’s title but also as its last line can be

interpreted as a stylistic and rhetorical device. It serves as a connection, a kind of bracket, between the play’s title and its ending.


[1] “the person who played a leading part in these doings” (Roper 121)

[2] The epistle is also called dedicatory letter (Roper 3). The term dedication means “the words used at the beginning of a book …” (Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English. 2006 ed.).

[3] John Mordaunt (1599-1643) was the first Earl of Peterborough (Roper 3).

[4] The word ‘frivolity’ refers to “behavior … that is not serious or sensible, especially when you should be serious or sensible” (Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English. 2006 ed.).

[5] Jackson’s Recantation (1674)

Excerpt out of 21 pages


Who is the Real Whore of Parma? – Representation of Women in Ford’s "'Tis Pity She’s a Whore"
University of Marburg
Concept of Love
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Das Literaturverzeichnis folgt den MLA Richtlinien.
John Ford;, William Shakespeare;, 'Tis Pity She's a Whore, Romeo and Juliet;, Early Modern Period, Love;, Concepts;, Jacobean Tragedy;
Quote paper
Lisa Sangmeister (Author), 2010, Who is the Real Whore of Parma? – Representation of Women in Ford’s "'Tis Pity She’s a Whore", Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/166095


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