Study Guide

'Tis Pity She's a Whore

by John Ford

'Tis Pity She's a Whore Summary

Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Previously recognized as a brilliant young scholar, Giovanni confesses to his tutor, Friar Bonaventura, that his love for his own sister, Annabella, is without limit. The friar warns Giovanni of eternal damnation if he does not forget this sinful lust and exhorts his young pupil to pray. Grimaldi, a Roman gentleman, in Parma to court Annabella, fights with Vasques, the servant of Soranzo, a nobleman. Grimaldi, enraged, proclaims that he will be revenged on Soranzo for Vasques’s assault. Putana, Annabella’s tutor, tells the girl that she is fortunate to have Grimaldi and Soranzo wooing her; personally, the old nurse prefers Soranzo, a virile and wealthy man of twenty-three. Annabella does not care to hear of the virtues of any suitor, but she has no patience for Bergetto, a tiresome twit.

Giovanni tries prayers and fasting, but nothing alleviates his misery. It is not his lust, he feels, that leads him on, but his fate. He confesses to Annabella his love for her, and she admits that she also loves him. Their father, Florio, worries about his studious son’s health and has more hope for descendants from his daughter’s marriage; the father says he wants her to marry for love rather than wealth. Florio is receptive, however, when Donado promises large amounts of money if Florio will let Donado’s simple-minded nephew, Bergetto, pay court to Annabella. Giovanni and Annabella yield to their desires and become intimate; then they worry about being separated if she is forced to marry.

Hippolita, Soranzo’s former mistress, believing she was recently widowed, reminds Soranzo that he promised to marry her when her husband died. In frustration and anger at being rejected, Hippolita promises to revenge herself upon Soranzo. Vasques promises to assist Hippolita in gaining her revenge. A supposed doctor, recently come to Parma, is really Hippolita’s husband, Richardetto. He comes in disguise to spy on his wife. While Richardetto is suspicious of Annabella’s indifference to all men, he tells Grimaldi that Soranzo stands between him (Grimaldi) and Annabella’s heart; together they plot to kill Soranzo. Thus, Richardetto will have his own revenge on the man who cuckolds him.

Giovanni confesses his relationship with his sister to the friar. The friar is greatly shocked and warns Giovanni of damnation. Giovanni tries by sophistical reasoning to prove that the love he and his sister bear for each other is not wrong. The friar replies that the only thing they can do to save themselves is to have Annabella marry. Bergetto sends a letter and a jewel to Annabella, but she tells Donado that she will never marry his nephew. Donado makes her a gift of the jewel his nephew sent to her, but Bergetto stubbornly decides that he will continue...

(The entire section is 1128 words.)

'Tis Pity She's a Whore Summary

Act I
Act I, scene i
The Friar and Giovanni discuss Giovanni's incestuous love for his sister,...

(The entire section is 1805 words.)

'Tis Pity She's a Whore Summary and Analysis

Summary and Analysis: Act 1, Scene 1

New Characters
Friar Bonaventura: The Friar who has taught Giovanni and serves as his counsel.

Giovanni: Annabella’s brother and the son of Florio.

Summary
John Ford's major English Renaissance drama, 'Tis Pity She's a Whore, opens with a discussion of the abnormal psychology of incest. Giovanni and the Friar Bonaventura are debating Giovanni’s love for his sister, Annabella. The Friar begins by admonishing him to stop rationalizing his illicit love and repent. Giovanni protests that because he and his sister share the same father and same womb, this makes their love “so much the more by nature .” Their bond to each other is that much greater, and more natural, because they are brother and sister. He adds that he can trust the Friar to be compassionate and offer good advice to him.

However, as Giovanni persists in justifying his incestuous love, the Friar merely responds by telling him again to repent. Giovanni disavows this advice, and the Friar responds by recalling Giovanni’s accomplishments at university in Bologna and bemoaning that he has “left the schools of knowledge, to converse with lust and death.” The Friar tells Giovanni to pursue better objects of desire than his sister. As he mentions the eternal torment that will result from Giovanni’s incestuous desire, he advises Giovanni to go to his father’s house for a week to pray and try to cleanse his heart. If this does not work, he is to return to the Friar, who will give him a pharmaceutical remedy for his desire. Giovanni vows to follow this advice, which he says will free himself from “the rod of vengeance.

Analysis
The play is set in Parma, Italy, in the early 1600s, contemporary with Ford's writing of the play. The opening logical and philosophical/religious discussion between the Friar and Giovanni reflects the...

(The entire section is 528 words.)

Summay and Analysis: Act 1, Scenes 2-3

New Characters
Vasques: The Spanish servant to Soranzo.

Grimaldi: A Roman soldier and aristocrat.

Florio: The father of Annabella and Giovanni.

Donado: A Parma citizen and uncle of Bergetto.

Soranzo: A nobleman who seeks to marry Annabella.

Putana: Annabella’s tutor and adviser.

Annabella: Giovanni’s sister and the daughter of Florio.

Bergetto: A nephew of Donado who seeks to marry Annabella.

Poggio: Bergetto’s servant.

Summary
Grimaldi and Vasques enter equipped with swords and taunting each other. Vasques calls his foe a lying, cowardly soldier of lesser quality than a...

(The entire section is 1131 words.)

Summary and Analysis: Act 2, Scenes 1-2

New Characters
Richardetto: The husband of Hippolita, he is believed to be dead.

Hippolita: Richardetto’s wife and the former lover of Soranzo.

Philotis: Richardetto's niece, a good and moral girl.

Summary
Giovanni and Annabella appear, with Giovanni telling her she is now his love and has won his heart. She says he has won her heart in return, and Giovanni jokingly remarks that the loss of Annabella’s virginity is no great issue. Brother and sister continue their amorous talk as Giovanni remarks that Annabella will be married to someone. He asks her to swear she will be faithful to him despite her marriage, and she swears to be faithful. Giovanni...

(The entire section is 820 words.)

Summary and Analysis: Act 2, Scenes 3-6

Summary
Richardetto bemoans his condition to his niece Philotis, remarking on how his wanton wife, Hippolita, is committing adultery. Richardetto vows to discover this adultery, and learns from Philotis that Florio intends to have Annabella marry Soranzo. Philotis adds the comment that Annabella, however, seems indifferent to Soranzo and her other suitors. Grimaldi promptly enters and asks to speak with Richardetto privately, so Philotis leaves them. Grimaldi declares his love for Annabella and asks if Richardetto can provide him with an aphrodisiac. Richardetto tells Grimaldi he should first kill Soranzo and promises to give Grimaldi a poison that Grimaldi can put onto his sword.

Donado begins...

(The entire section is 910 words.)

Summary and Analysis: Act 3, Scenes 1-5

Summary
Bergetto and Poggio enter. Bergetto declares that he will have Philotis, and points out that she has given him a codpiece-point and box of marmalade as presents. An energetic Bergetto repeats his intent to have Philotis and departs.

The group of Florio, Giovanni, Soranzo, Annabella, Putana, and Vasques enter, with Florio telling Soranzo he intends to have Annabella marry him. All but Soranzo and Annabella leave as Florio tells his daughter to tell Soranzo her feelings. Soranzo declares his love for Annabella as Giovanni enters above, on a balcony. But she says she intends “to live and die a maid,” without marrying anyone. Soranzo replies by maintaining his ardent desire and pleading...

(The entire section is 856 words.)

Summary and Analysis: Act 3, Scenes 6-9

New Characters
Cardinal: The Cardinal of Parma and the Papal Nuncio.

Summary
The Friar is in his study sitting in a chair, with Annabella kneeling and weeping before him. He gives her a lengthy, elaborate description of the torments that await her and Giovanni in hell if she fails to repent her incest. Annabella is moved to cry out, “Mercy, O Mercy,” and asks the Friar if there is a way to avoid facing such miseries. He assures her that if she marries Soranzo and ceases her relations with Giovanni she will be saved. The Friar warns that the path to repentance is not easy, but Annabella agrees to take this path. Florio and Giovanni enter and await Soranzo’s entrance....

(The entire section is 728 words.)

Summary and Analysis: Act 4, Scenes 1-2

Summary
Nearly all the characters have gathered for the wedding banquet. The Friar begins the banquet by blessing Soranzo and Annabella, and Soranzo receives this blessing while expressing thanks that he was not killed by Grimaldi. He proposes a toast, but Giovanni reveals in an aside that it is unbearable for him to see Annabella married to Soranzo. Soranzo drinks to the happiness of himself and Annabella, but Giovanni refuses the wine Soranzo offers him, and Annabella tells Soranzo not to insist that Giovanni drink.

Some maidens of Parma enter to perform a masque, or brief theatrical performance, to celebrate the marriage, and Hippolita enters with them. She unmasks herself and reveals that she...

(The entire section is 639 words.)

Summary and Analysis: Act 4, Scene 3

New Characters
Banditti: A group of bandits who serve Soranzo.

Summary
Soranzo, his sword drawn, drags Annabella in and extensively denounces her lustful ways. He has learned of her illicit pregnancy. Annabella, though, defends herself by saying he was too quick to marry her and that in marrying him, she was only acceding to his desires. She claims that she would have told him of her pregnancy before the marriage if given the time. Soranzo replies with outrage, but Annabella remains steadfast and refuses to say who her baby’s father is. She does daringly say that she is carrying a boy who will serve as Soranzo’s heir. Annabella praises her lover for his beauty, glory,...

(The entire section is 1156 words.)

Summary and Analysis: Act 5, Scenes 1-3

Summary
Annabella appears by herself on the balcony, holding a letter written in her own blood. She speaks at length of her penitence for her “false joys” with Giovanni and holds herself up as an example for others to avoid. She also mentions her sorrow that Giovanni has entangled himself with her. The Friar has entered below, and hears most of this monologue. Annabella, unaware of his presence, goes on to praise the Friar and vows to die after giving her penitent letter to a passerby. At this point the Friar steps in to tell Annabella that heaven has heard her penitence. Annabella responds by throwing the letter down to him and asking that Giovanni read it and repent, as she has. She mentions her...

(The entire section is 780 words.)

Summary and Analysis: Act 5, Scenes 4-5

Summary
Soranzo, Vasques, and the banditti appear. Vasques tells them their reward for the murder of Giovanni at the birthday feast will include both money and freedom. He says at the feast, they will hear a word from Vasques and that word will be the signal for them to rush in on Giovanni. Thus instructed, they leave, and Vasques calls on Soranzo to keep in mind the wrongs done to him in order to give strength to his vengeful intent. Vasques adds that Soranzo should let Giovanni sleep with Annabella again.

Giovanni enters and is greeted by Soranzo. Soranzo advises him to go to his sister’s room, and Giovanni leaves to do so. Vasques expresses his satisfaction at this before seeing the Cardinal,...

(The entire section is 631 words.)

Summary and Analysis: Act 5, Scene 6

Summary
The Cardinal, Florio, Donado, Soranzo, Richardetto, and Vasques take their places at Soranzo’s banquet. Vasques briefly tells Soranzo to “be wise and resolute” in carrying out his plans for revenge before Soranzo asks the Cardinal if he likes the entertainment. The affirmative answer comes just before Giovanni enters with a heart on his dagger. He tells Soranzo he is “proud in the spoil of love and vengeance!”

Soranzo wonders if his plot is undone, and Giovanni says he has killed Annabella, whose heart is now before them. An amazed Florio is told by his son that he had loved Annabella for nine months, and that her baby was his. At first Florio disbelieves this, and Soranzo too...

(The entire section is 853 words.)