Thursday, July 12, 2012

John Ford

The primal bonds of family unite young lovers in John Ford's 'Tis Pity She's a Whore. Opposed to father, state, and church (see Giovanni's atheistic/agnostic comments), as well as the possible exogamous marriages for the young heroine, the brother-sister lovers' violation of the sexual taboo prohibiting incest participates in the play's overall anarchist bent. This bleak tale foregrounds incest with a sympathy almost unique to the period, and so the references to “blood” that proliferate in the text signify both the too-close bonds of kinship between the young lovers and the violence endemic to the plot.

This textual “bloodiness” literally problematizes incest: too-close DNA. Giovanni's early reference to the womb raises the issue of the Elizabethans' view of twin incest in the womb. Giovanni speaks of the first to the Friar: “Say that we had one father, say one womb / (Curse to my joys!) gave us both life and birth; / Are we not therefore each to other bound / So much the more by nature? By the links of blood, of reason?” (1.1.28-32).1 Shelly Errington, in her study of Southeast Asian tribal societies' beliefs that twins had incest in the womb, points out that, for royals, such births did not carry the same stigma as for commoners: “Incest or its compromise act, close marriage, in short, is a statement about status” (403). Edmund Spenser's Faerie Queene refers to the same belief: “These twinnes, men say, (a thing far passing thought) / Whiles in their mothers wombe enclosd they were, / Ere they into the lightsome world were brought, / In fleshly lust were mingled both yfere” (Book 3, Canto 7). Giovanni and Annabella, born of the same parents (father and womb), still break an early modern taboo in their sexual relationship, though not in the womb.

Blood suggests equality in other manners, as the gentlemanly suitors use it as a term of rank and social status. Soranzo tells his rival, previous to an insult, “May be thou art / My equal in thy blood” (1.2.39-40). The young bloods desiring to gain some of Florio's property in the form of his daughter's dowry engage in this verbal (and otherwise) jousting to indicate the importance of their evolutionary imperatives. They focus on exogamy, suggesting in contrast to Giovanni's subversive argument that bloodlines need diversity to remain healthy. By turn, Florio, in his rebuke to the suitors, exclaims, “Have you not other places but my house / To vent the spleen of your disordered bloods?” (1.2.24-25). To him, their duels reflect poorly on their nature (their bloods), although, to the suitors, such duels necessarily weed out the inferior.

The violent action that concludes the play also enacts “bloodiness” - the literal spilling of blood and heating of blood in anger that follows the revelation of the incest (too-close blood relations) that has subverted the health of Annabella's exogamous marriage (to promulgate bloodlines). For example, upon learning of Annabella's incest, Soranzo exclaims, “All my blood / Is fired in swift revenge” (4.3.149-50). Giovanni, like his young rivals, also enacts “bloodiness” violently, as does Annabella, only upon her own body, writing a letter in her blood to Giovanni (5.3.31-32). Annabella enacts the ideal of early modern femininity in her repentance, particularly in her acceptance of guilt and shame (compare to Giovanni's defiance!). Annabella internalizes the violence of bloodiness: she takes no vengeance on others.

Blood, therefore, in an incestuous linguistic twinning, metaphorically represents not only existing social structures (the marriage mart), but also the anarchic drive that threatens them (the incest). Giovanni claims for his forbidden love the ultimate power in a blend of incestuous passion and avenging fury: “Here, here, Soranzo, trimmed in reeking blood / That triumphs over death, proud in the spoil / Of love and vengeance!” (5.6.10-12). The triumph of sterile celibacy over fertile sexuality in the conclusion, as the Cardinal claims the goods and possessions of the dead lovers, all of them, and the father too, enacts the ultimate tragedy. Blood thins.


Errington, Shelly. “Incestuous Twins and the House Societies of Insular Southeast Asia.” Cultural Anthropology 2.4 (Nov. 1987): 403-444.

Ford, John. 'Tis Pity She's a Whore. English Renaissance Drama: A Norton Anthology. Ed. David Bevington et al. New York: Norton, 2002. 1911-67.

Spenser, Edmund. The Complete Works in Verse and Prose of Edmund Spenser. London: Grosart, 1882. .

No comments:

Post a Comment