Wednesday, July 01, 2009

John Ford--'Tis Pity She's a Whore (1633)--Part 1 I know I said the other day that I didn't like to make rankings, but if the number of items coming to mind to be considered is small enough I don't mind doing a list. So here go the Best Titles in the History of Literature:
1. Tis Pity She's a Whore
2. Just Give Me the Damn Ball--Keyshawn Johnson
3. Tyrannic Love--John Dryden
4. Love in a Tub--Sir George Etheredge
5. (tie) Success is a Choice--Rick Pitino
Surviving at the Top--Donald Trump

When I was reading this, I was thinking to myself, it's sure been a long time since I've read a good comedy about incest. Of course the play is supposed to be a tragedy, and forms an important part of the tradition and all that, but I have to say I found it on the first reading to be too absurd to take seriously as a tragedy, and very often veering on laugh-out-loud funny. Having discovered frequently when seeing a play I have read acted that I understood nothing of what was going on, I should probably see a production of it. Fortunately it appears to be a quite popular revival nowadays, and has the bonus of almost always featuring a pretty young actress in the lead role (this is contrast to the dark years between 1661 and 1894 when the play was apparently not revived a single time).

"Heaven admits no jest" the friar announces in the play's fourth line. Giovanni, the male lead, isn't hiding anything either, as he riotously argues with the holy man:

"Shall then, for that I am her brother born,
My joys be ever banish'd from her bed?"

Far from backing down at this insolence, the friar continues to dish out good advice:

"Beg heaven to cleanse the leprosy of lust
That rots thy soul, acknowledge what thou art,
A wretch, a worm, a nothing..."

In Scene ii the girls come in, and happily the bawdiness is no less rife. Giovanni discovers that his sister/lover is being married off, but he does not take the news docilely, and amps up the sexy talk:

"Such lips would tempt a saint; such hands as those
Would make an anchorite lascivious."

My book was used. The previous owner was someone named Laura Phillips who was apparently loving all the sexual innuendo, as she helpfully pointed it out in the margins on every page.

II. i. 47-9 PUTANA (tut'ress to Annabella):

"...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 anybody, father or brother, all is one."

This is insane.

II. ii 38-9 HIPPOLITA (wife to Richardetto [a supposed physician]):

"And shall the conquest of my lawful bed,
My husband's death urg'd on by his disgrace", et al.

This is what life is like at it highest levels I think.

I liked the plot of this. Since there is pretty much nothing holding back the characters from doing or saying whatever they want to anyone, and they are all glib and funny, its various scenarios largely create their own interest.

Annabella's ignored fiance comes to the doctor requesting a love potion in II. iii. For some reason I took up the idea that this was an allegory and the dose was going to produce viagra-like effects in him but I don't see what I was thinking now.

II. v. the confession scene is hilarious.

GIOVANNI: "Your age o'errules you; had you youth like mine,
You'd make her love your Heaven, and her divine."
and, after a rundown of the charms of his sister's eyes, breath, cheeks, etc:

"But father, what is else for pleasure fram'd,
Lest I offend your ears, shall go unnam'd."

III, v. GRIMALDI (a Roman gentleman, the betrothed of Annabella, before poisoning the doctor's rival in love, whom the doctor has convinced him is actually his own):

"...I know
'Tis an unnoble act, and not becomes
A soldier's valor, but in terms of love,
Where merit cannot sway, policy must."

Tingly! "Have you not sweetmeats or dainty devices for me?/You shall have enough, sweetheart." (III, v. 41-2). Bawdy! "Be rul'd; when we have done what's fit to do/Then you may kiss your fill, and bed her too."

The evil cardinal in III. ix allows us to indulge our myriad anti-Catholic prejudices. So satisfying! There is a hopeful note at the end of the scene though:

"Come, come, Donado, there's no help in this,
When cardinals think murder's not amiss,
Great men may do their wills, we must obey;
But Heaven will judge them for't another day."

As we begin Act IV the murder count already stands at 2. The action in this act is extraordinary. Poisoned, the truly choice woman that is Hippolita expires, but she hardly goes quietly:

"...heat above hell fire!--
Yet ere I pass away--cruel, cruel flames!--
Take here my curse amongst you; may thy bed
Of marriage be a rack onto thy heart,
Burn blood and boil in vengeance--O my heart,
My flame's intolerable--mayst thou live
To father bastards, may her womb bring forth
Monsters, and die together in your sins,
Hated, scorn'd, and unpitied--O!--O!--" (dies)

On this note, the friar has some words of true wisdom to end the scene:

"I fear the event; that marriage seldom's good,
Where the bride-banquet so begins in blood."

I was hoping to knock this out in one posting, but I think I'll just do a short second one.

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