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'Tis Pity She's a Whore
Title page from 1633 printing
Written byJohn Ford
CharactersFriar Bonaventura
A Cardinal
Banditti (Bandit)
Date premieredbetween 1629 and 1633
Place premieredEngland
Original languageEnglish

'Tis Pity She's a Whore (original spelling: 'Tis Pitty Shee's a Who[o]re) is a tragedy written by John Ford.[1] It was first performed c. 1626[1] or between 1629 and 1633,[2] by Queen Henrietta's Men at the Cockpit Theatre. The play was first published in 1633, in a quarto printed by Nicholas Okes for the bookseller Richard Collins. Ford dedicated the play to John Mordaunt, 1st Earl of Peterborough and Baron of Turvey.


Page from a 1633 printed edition

Giovanni, recently returned to Parma from university in Bologna, has developed an incestuous passion for his sister Annabella and the play opens with his discussing this ethical problem with Friar Bonaventura. Bonaventura tries to convince Giovanni that his desires are evil despite Giovanni's passionate reasoning and eventually persuades him to try to rid himself of his feelings through repentance.

Annabella, meanwhile, is being approached by a number of suitors including Bergetto, Grimaldi, and Soranzo. She is not interested in any of them. Giovanni finally tells her how he feels (obviously having failed in his attempts to repent) and finally wins her over. Annabella's tutoress Putana (literally, "Whore") encourages the relationship. The siblings consummate their relationship.

Hippolita, a past lover of Soranzo, verbally attacks him, furious with him for letting her send her husband Richardetto on a dangerous journey she believed would result in his death so that they could be together, then declining his vows and abandoning her. Soranzo leaves and his servant Vasques promises to help Hippolita get revenge on Soranzo and the pair agree to marry after they murder him.

Richardetto is not dead but also in Parma in disguise with his niece Philotis. Richardetto is also desperate for revenge against Soranzo and convinces Grimaldi that to win Annabella, he should stab Soranzo with a poisoned sword. Bergetto and Philotis, now betrothed, are planning to marry secretly in the place Richardetto orders Grimaldi to wait. Grimaldi mistakenly stabs and kills Bergetto instead, leaving Philotis, Poggio (Bergetto's servant), and Donado (Bergetto's uncle) distraught.

Annabella resigns herself to marrying Soranzo, knowing she has to marry someone other than her brother. She subsequently falls ill and it is revealed that she is pregnant. Friar Bonaventura then persuades her to marry Soranzo before her pregnancy becomes apparent. Donado and Florio (father of Annabella and Giovanni) go to the cardinal's house, where Grimaldi has been in hiding, to beg for justice. The cardinal refuses due to Grimaldi's high status and instead sends him back to Rome. Florio tells Donado to wait for God to bring them justice.

Annabella and Soranzo are married soon after, and their ceremony includes masque dancers, one of whom reveals herself to be Hippolita. She claims to be willing to drink a toast with Soranzo and the two raise their glasses and drink, on which note she explains that her plan was to poison his wine. Vasques comes forward and reveals that he was always loyal to his master and he poisoned Hippolita. She dies spouting insults and damning prophecies to the newlyweds. Seeing the effects of anger and revenge, Richardetto abandons his plans and sends Philotis off to a convent to save her soul.

When Soranzo discovers Annabella's pregnancy, the two argue until Annabella realises that Soranzo truly did love her and finds herself consumed with guilt. She is confined to her room by her husband, who plots with Vasques to avenge himself against his cheating wife and her unknown lover. On Soranzo's exit, Putana comes onto the stage and Vasques pretends to befriend her to gain the name of Annabella's baby's father. Once Putana reveals that it's Giovanni, Vasques has bandits tie Putana up and put out her eyes as punishment for the terrible acts she has willingly overseen and encouraged. In her room, Annabella writes a letter to her brother in her own blood, warning him that Soranzo knows and will soon seek revenge. The friar delivers the letter but Giovanni is too arrogant to believe he can be harmed and ignores advice to decline the invitation to Soranzo's birthday feast. The friar subsequently flees Parma to avoid further involvement in Giovanni's downfall.

Angelique Rockas as Annabella in New Theatre production directed by Declan Donnelan, London 1980

On the day of the feast, Giovanni visits Annabella in her room and after talking with her, stabs her during a kiss. He then enters the feast, at which all remaining characters are present, wielding a dagger on which his sister's heart is skewered and tells everyone of the incestuous affair. Florio dies immediately from shock. Soranzo attacks Giovanni verbally and Giovanni stabs and kills him. Vasques intervenes, wounding Giovanni before ordering the bandits to finish the job. Following the massacre, the cardinal orders Putana to be burnt at the stake, Vasques to be banished, and the church to seize all the wealth and property belonging to the dead. Richardetto finally reveals his true identity to Donado and the play ends with the cardinal saying of Annabella "who could not say, 'Tis pity she's a whore?".[3]


  • Men
    • Friar Bonaventura – A friar and Giovanni's mentor
    • A Cardinal – Nuncio to the Pope
    • Soranzo – A nobleman (Annabella's suitor and eventual husband)
    • Florio – A citizen of Parma, and father of Annabella and Giovanni
    • Donado – A citizen of Parma, and uncle of Bergetto
    • Grimaldi – A Roman gentleman (Annabella's suitor)
    • Giovanni – Son of Florio (his name is pronounced with four syllables)[4][5]
    • Bergetto – Nephew of Donado (Annabella's suitor and then Philotis's fiancé/suitor)
    • Richardetto – Hippolita's husband, disguised as a physician, also Philotis' uncle
    • Vasques – Loyal servant to Soranzo
    • Poggio – Servant to Bergetto
    • Banditti – Outlaws, a criminal mob
    • Officers
  • Women
    • Annabella – Daughter of Florio
    • Hippolita – Wife of Richardetto (Soranzo's former paramour)
    • Philotis – Niece of Richardetto (becomes Bergetto's fiancée)
    • Putana – Tutoress of Annabella; her name derives from the Italian word for "whore", puttana.[6]


The play's open treatment of the subject of incest made it one of the most controversial works in English literature.[7] The play was entirely omitted from an 1831 collection of Ford's plays; its title has often been changed to something euphemistic such as Giovanni and Annabella or 'Tis Pity or The Brother and Sister. Indeed, until well into the twentieth century, critics were usually harsh in their condemnations of the play; the subject matter offended them, as did Ford's failure to condemn his protagonist. Critic Mark Stavig wrote, "Instead of stressing the villainy, Ford portrays Giovanni as a talented, virtuous, and noble man who is overcome by a tumultuous, unavoidable passion that brings about his destruction".[8] Adolphus Ward said: "'Tis Pity She's a Whore has been justly recognized as a tragedy of extraordinary power".[1] Since the mid-twentieth century, scholars and critics have generally shown more appreciation of the complexities and ambiguities of the work,[9] though the treatment of the main subject still remains "unsettling", in the words of Michael Billington, reviewing the 2014 production for The Guardian, because Ford refuses "to either condone or condemn incest: he simply presents it as an unstoppable force".[10]

Notable performances



Peter Greenaway has said that the play provided him with the main template for his 1989 film The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover.[26]

The pilot episode of Midsomer Murders, "The Killings at Badger's Drift" (1997), contains references to the play.

A song with almost the same name, "'Tis a Pity She Was a Whore", is featured on David Bowie's final studio album Blackstar (2016). "Sue (Or in a Season of Crime)", from the same album, loosely recounts the play's events from Annabella's decision to marry Soranzo to Giovanni's reception of her note written in blood.

The play is referenced in Tom Stoppard's 1982 play The Real Thing.

In the third season of Party Down, Henry Pollard (Adam Scott) directs a high school version of the play.


  1. ^ a b c d Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Ford, John" . Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 10 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 641–643.
  2. ^ Logan, Terence P.; Smith, Denzell S. (1978). The Later Jacobean and Caroline Dramatists. Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press. p. 141.
  3. ^ Matthew A. Everett (9 November 2010). "THEATER Classical Actors Ensemble's "'Tis Pity She's a Whore": Isn't it, though?". Twin Cities Daily Planet.
  4. ^ John Ford (2014) [1633]. Martin Wiggins (ed.). 'Tis Pity She's a Whore. Bloomsbury. p. 44. ISBN 9781408144312. ... rather than three as in modern Italian
  5. ^ White 2012, p. 12
  6. ^ White, Martin (2012). Ford: 'Tis Pity She's a Whore. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 20. ISBN 9781137006073.
  7. ^ Logan & Smith 1978, p. 127.
  8. ^ Mark Stavig, John Ford and the Traditional Moral Order, Madison, Wisconsin, University of Wisconsin Press, 1968; p. 95.
  9. ^ Logan & Smith 1978, pp. 128–129.
  10. ^ a b Billington, Michael (29 October 2014). "'Tis Pity She's a Whore review – naked passion illuminated by candlelight". The Guardian.
  11. ^ Simon Baker (ed.), 'Tis Pity She's a Whore (Routledge, 1997), p. 15.
  12. ^ "Lindsay Anderson On ' Tis Pity'" – via Internet Archive.
  13. ^ John Ford (2014). "Major British productions in the 20th century". In Martin Wiggins (ed.). 'Tis Pity She's a Whore. A&C Black. p. 43. ISBN 9781408144329.
  14. ^ The British Newspaper Archive (1 January 1900). "Results for 'the stage tis pity she's a whore 1980 ann morley priestman'". British Newspaper Archive. Retrieved 17 September 2021.
  15. ^ "Tis Pity Reviews".
  16. ^ "'Tis Pity She's A Whore". The Guardian. 21 April 2011.
  17. ^ "Theatre relents after bishop's complaint over poster for 'Tis Pity She's a Whore". Yorkshire Post. 20 April 2011.
  18. ^ "Playhouse poster replaced after Leeds diocese criticism". BBC News. 20 April 2011.
  19. ^ "'Tis Pity She's a Whore Leeds". Whats on Stage.
  20. ^ "'Tis Pity She's a Whore, West Yorkshire Playhouse/The Lady in the Van, Hull Truck theatre, review". The Telegraph.
  21. ^ a b c "Cheek by Jowl Website: Previous Productions". London: Cheek by Jowl Theatre Company. Retrieved 25 October 2017.
  22. ^ "Sam Wanamaker Playhouse: 'Tis Pity She's a Whore". Shakespeare's Globe. 2014. Archived from the original on 16 January 2015. Retrieved 12 December 2014.
  23. ^ "'Tis Pity She's a Whore". BBC Genome. 7 May 1980. Retrieved 9 February 2017.
  24. ^ "Drama On 3: 'Tis Pity She's a Whore". Retrieved 7 January 2018.
  25. ^ "Revue der Opern-Parodien" by Regine Müller, Rheinische Post, 17 February 2019 (in German); Production details, Deutsche Oper am Rhein
  26. ^ Vernon Gras and Marguerite Gras (eds.), Peter Greenaway: Interviews, Jackson, Mississippi, University Press of Mississippi, 2000; p. 69

External links

1 Annotation

First Reading

TerryF  •  Link

"'Tis Pity She's a Whore, John Ford's exquisitely grisly, depraved version of Romeo and Juliet where the two lovers are brother and sister"…
is currently in copyright editions by Routeledge, as an ebook… and in an anthology…

Hippolita 'Tis she; Be not amaz'd; nor blush, young lovely bride, I come not to defraud you of your man: 'Tis now no time to reckon up the talk what Parma long hath rumour'd of us both; Let rash report run on! the breath that vents it Will, like a bubble, break itself at last.…

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Chart showing the number of references in each month of the diary’s entries.


  • Sep