Summary and Analysis: Act 1, Scene 1

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Last Updated on June 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 528

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

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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 European Renaissance tradition of argument. In this tradition, students and their teachers used logical reasoning to support their philosophical assertions, even about love. The Friar’s tutorials and study at the university in nearby Bologna have taught Giovanni this approach to thought and desire. Giovanni uses this teaching to make what he believes are logical arguments to justify his desire for an incestuous relationship with his sister, Annabella, by claiming it has a sound basis in the laws of nature, reason, and love.

The Friar makes his case not on similar rational grounds, but by calling incest an affront to God. He says Giovanni should simply accept the social and religious prohibitions on incest rather than try to justify his incestuous desire. There can be no justification. So the Friar does not tell him to use his training in logic to stop this desire, but to go home and pray for God to erase his desire. Only by abasing himself before God can he stop incestuous desire. Giovanni readily agrees to this counsel, but he mentions "vengeance" if he does not repent, which introduces a theme that will reappear many times in this play. Giovanni’s closing reference to the rod of vengeance seems to refer to the punishment God will inflict on him if he does not cease his incestuous desire.

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Summay and Analysis: Act 1, Scenes 2-3