Car. 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?

PERSONS IN THE PLAY
BONAVENTURA, a Friar
A CARDINAL, Nuncio to the Pope
SORANZO, a Nobleman
FLORIO,
DONADO, Citizens of Parma
GRIMALDI, a Roman Gentleman
GIOVANNI, Son of Florio
BERGETTO, Nephew of Donato
RICHARDETTO, a supposed Physician
VASQUES, Servant to Soranzo
POGGIO, Servant to Bergetto
Banditti, Officers, Attendants, Servants, &c.
ANNABELLA, Daughter of Florio
HIPPOLITA, Wife of Richardetto
PHILOTIS, Niece of Richardetto
PUTANA, Tutoress to Annabella

'Tis Pity She's a Whore is perhaps the best known and most-often performed play of the late-Renaissance English dramatist John Ford. In true Grand Guignol fashion, it contains incest, murder, and dark demented psychology galore, so let's get to it! (Incidentally I give away pretty much everything; be forewarned.)

Gio. Shall a peevish sound,
A customary form, from man to man,
Of brother and of sister, be a bar
'Twixt my perpetual happiness and me?

Act the First, Scene I begins with young Giovanni disputing philosophy with his mentor Friar Bonaventura--basically, the philosophy of whether or not it's all right for him to love his sister Annabella. Yeah, and he means that kind of love. The Friar, naturally, is horrified, counseling him to repent and lock himself into his room to weep and pray. Giovanni reluctantly agrees.

Meanwhile, the fair Annabella is courted by many suitors--the Upperclass Twit of the Year candidate Bergetto ("Didst thou think, Poggio, that I would spoil my new clothes, and leave my dinner, to fight?"), the ex-soldier Grimaldi, and Soranzo, whom Annabella's "tutoress" Putana favors, because he is wise, rich, and probably a demon in the sack as well, "else he could never ha' purchased such a good name with Hippolita, the lusty widow, in her husband's lifetime." Annabella does not appeared overjoyed at having "choice fit for the best lady in Italy."

Ann. But see, Putana, see! what blessed shape
Of some celestial creature now appears!--
What man is he, that with such sad aspect
Walks careless of himself?...
Put. O, 'tis your brother, sweet.

Giovanni confesses his lust, uh, passion to his sister. She admits she feels that way towards him too, and they vow to each other that they are both serious, each ending their little speech with "Love me or kill me." We see where this whole thing is going.

The nobleman Donado confers with the siblings' father Florio about the possibilty of Annabella marrying his nephew Bergetto. Florio answers that Annabella is free to choose her husband, and Bergetto is free to court her, especially since he loves her more than Parmesan cheese. Meanwhile, Annabella and Giovanni have just finished their first brother-sister playdate.

Gio. I marvel why the chaster of your sex
Should think this pretty toy called maidenhead
So strange a loss, when, being lost, 'tis nothing,
And you are still the same.

But even in his hormone-induced euphoria, Giovanni cannot be entirely content, since he knows Annabella must eventually marry. Annabella, however, tearfully swears that after sleeping with her brother, all suitors seem, well, creepy and weird to her.

Put. 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 any body, father or brother, all is one.

With such wise counsel from Putana, Annabella is well prepared for her father's visit. Since she's been sickly lately, he's brought along the physician Richardetto, and Richardetto's neice Philotis.

Soranzo is ranting about Annabella's beauty when his scheming manservant, Vasques, enters with Soranzo's his raving mad ex-mistress, Hippolita. She was a virtuous, respectable gentlewoman until Sorenzo seduced her. He'd even promised to marry her if her husband died--and he did die, when she packed him off on a voyage, the better to enjoy Soranzo. Needless to say, marriage is hardly in Soranzo's thoughts. He declares that his promises were "wicked and unlawful"; he is virtuous not to keep them, and by the way, she's a slut and a murderess. Vasques protests, and Soranzo leaves in a huff. Hippolita vows revenge, and charms Vasques into agreeing to betray his master.

And what about Richardetto and Philotis, who appeared so briefly before? Shockingly, Richardetto is the same dead husband of the earlier paragraph! He's returned from the voyage incognito with his niece. And of course, he's out for revenge against Soranzo. Since he's learned that Annabella's father plans to marry her to Soranzo, Richardetto persuades the rival suitor Grimaldi to kill Soranzo. They're enemies anyway and both out for the same chick; Grimaldi's all for it, especially since Richardetto gives him a cool poisoned blade.

After hearing of the siblings' roll in the hay, the Friar is scandalized. And Annabella too is a lustful incestuous sinner! Of course, he heads off to visit her--to bring spiritual counsel, you pervert. Meanwhile, Annabella has firmly but kindly rejected the twittish Bergetto, to her father's approval. It's Soranzo's turn now. The two young people are left alone to converse--with Giovanni hovering creepily in the gallery above. Annabella tells Soranzo that she plans "to live and die a maid"; but if she absolutely has to marry someone, it will be him or no one else. Mind games being very exhausting, Annabella promptly faints. Her green complexion, qualms, and morning vomiting are explained to father Florio as food poisoning and "the maid's sickness"--for which speedy marriage is the best cure. Her governess Putana, however, knows the truth. Yes, Annabella is pregnant. It all comes out in Annabella's confession to the Friar. After a long hellfire and brimstone lecture from him, she repents, and agrees to marry Soranzo to save her reputation and her soul.

Richardetto's scheming extends to promising Bergetto his neice--but on their way to marry, Bergetto is mistakenly stabbed by Grimaldi. Bergetto's uncle Donado pleads for justice from the Cardinal, Grimaldi's employer, and is essentially told to fuck off.

Sor. Here, brother Giovanni, here's to you;
Your turn come next, though now a bachelor;
Here's to your sister's happiness and mine!
Gio. I cannot drink.

Yes, it's the marriage feast of Annabella and Soranzo! Entertainment is provided by Hippolita, who crashes the party intending to poison Soranzo. Vasques, however, hands her the poisoned cup as she toasts Soranzo--and then, as she dies a horrible retching death, delivers an impassioned speech on how her own treachery has killed her, she plotted with him to kill his master, and by the way, she's a slut and a murderess.

All. Wonderful justice!

Richardetto is pissed that his wife has passed away so early, before he got a chance to kill her, but he takes comfort in Soranzo's imminent downfall. Since his tender niece should not be exposed to any more of this sort of thing, he packs her off to be a nun. She readily assents. If sex is this screwed up, can you blame her?

Enter SORANZO unbraced, and dragging in Annabella
Sor.
Come, strumpet, famous whore!

Annabella has admitted her pregnancy but refuses to name the father. Raging, Soranzo throws her around the room until Vasques calms him and counsels him to be kind and gentle to her--until he can find out the father. Soranzo "forgives" Annabella, and leaves with her, while the manservant ponders where he can find information. Putana enters, crying over the ill-treatment of her mistress, and Vasques consoles her. Why, he says, "say she be with child, is that such a matter for a young woman of her years to be blamed for?" Goodness, if Annabella would just tell Soranzo who the father is, he'd forget all about it, and if Putana knows anything, she should tell Vasques, and he will see that no harm comes to her. Putana tells all, and true to his promise, he calls in a gang of Banditti.

Put. How now! what are these?
Vas. You shall know presently--Come sirs, take me this old damnable hag,
gag her instantly, and put out her eyes, quickly, quickly!
Put. Vasques! Vasques!--
Vas. Gag her, I say; 'sfoot, d'ye suffer her to prate? what d'ye fumble about? let me come to her.
I'll help your old gums, you toad-bellied bitch! {They gag her}
Sirs, carry her closely to the coal-house, and put out her eyes instantly; if she roars,
slit her nose: d'ye hear, be speedy and sure. Why, this is excellent and above expectation--her own brother!

Vasques hurries to Soranzo to plot a bloody revenge--which will take the form of a dinner party, with all the town worthies present. Annabella, confined to her chamber, writes a note in her own blood to Giovanni, telling him that they are discovered. She has repented and cleansed herself of their sin; there will be no more playdates. The Friar carries it to him, and he resolves to go to the party anyway. Giovanni arrives early, and Soranzo tells him to retrieve Annabella from her chamber.

Gio. Thus die, and die by me, and by my hand!
Revenge is mine; honour doth love command.
Ann. O, brother, by your hand!

Don't worry children, the gore is just getting started!

Enter GIOVANNI with a heart upon his dagger.

Nothing adds zest to a dinner party like a raving man yelling that he has killed his sister and his unborn incestuous love-child. Their father Florio promptly has a heart attack and dies. Soranzo draws and fights with Giovanni, and falls. On Vasques' prearranged shouting of "Vengeance!", the Banditti rush in and fatally wound Giovanni. Vasques gives a full account of everything to Donaldo and the Cardinal, who thoroughly approve his virtuously orchestrated bloodshed. The Cardinal also declares that the hapless Putana shall be burnt to death, and Vasques shall be banished to his home country of Spain, since he did everything in his master's service. And you thought Hamlet ended on a downer.

All quotes taken from the Modern Library edition, Eight Famous Elizabethan Plays, Random House: 1950.

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