Criterion Anxiety in ’Tis Pity She’s a Whore

  • William M. Hamlin
Part of the Early Modern Literature in History book series (EMLH)


It is fitting in many ways to close this book with a discussion of John Ford’s ’Tis Pity She’s a Whore. Technically a work of the Caroline period, the play is still very much a Jacobean tragedy in its intellectuality, its boldness, its contrariety, its ‘horrid laughter’.1 Like Mariam and The Duchess of Malft, ’Tis Pity concerns itself with sexuality in exogamous and endogamous contexts; like The Spanish Tragedy, The Malcontent, The White Devil and The Changeling, it is enmeshed in revenge-play conventions; like The Duchess and The White Devil it displays strong interest in malevolence and gratuitous cruelty; and like Doctor Faustus it is fascinated with issues of aspiration and forbidden knowledge. Indeed, many critics have emphasized ’Tis Pity’s epistemological orientation. Cyrus Hoy noted long ago that Giovanni is ‘an eminently rational protagonist whose very powers of reason make him, paradoxically, at once the more vulnerable to sin and the more culpable in sinning’. And recently Lisa Hopkins has observed that certainty, uncertainty, blindness and ignorance ‘form an important part of the play’s thematic structure’: despite the evident dangers of knowledge, ’Tis Pity ‘never ceases to remind us that we are always already implicated in it’.2 Like dramatic predecessors such as Faustus, Mariam and Webster’s Duchess, Giovanni and Annabella travel ‘into a wilderness’ (Duchess, 1.1.350).


Symbolic Slaying Customary Form Omnipotent Divine Incest Taboo Rational Spirit 
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Copyright information

© William M. Hamlin 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • William M. Hamlin
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of EnglishWashington State UniversityUSA

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