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Love is the most selfish of emotions. Discuss in reference to the characters in ‘Tis Pity’

In John Ford’s ‘Tis pity she’s a whore’ one of the main themes is the incestuous relationship between the central characters of Giovanni and Annabella. But a question rose by the statement above ‘love is the most selfish of emotions’ is whether the love in the play is a genuine everlasting ideal love or a more selfish in essence. In this essay I shall be exploring whether the love portrayed in the play was in fact selfish or not and if so which character was being selfish and their motives behind it.
In Act 1 scene 1 Giovanni one of the main characters is in the middle of a heated argument over his immoral love Annabella, his sister. Giovanni tries hard to persuade the Friar of his love using passionate language in order to receive blessing from the Friar who in a sense represents the church in the play. “That beauty which framed anew, the gods would make a god of”. We as the audience gain from here that Giovanni’s ‘love’ for Annabella runs deep and the use of gods links back to Greek mythology in which the gods in rare cases made mortals into demi gods/creatures if they showed great talent or physical beauty or even in their envy cursed some mortals most notably Medusa, Giovanni’s comparison of Annabella’s beauty of that worthy to gods shows how worthy he believes she is. The use of gods rather than God has led critics to believe that ‘Tis pity’ has a minor theme of atheism which is further reinforced by the later events in the play. Giovanni’s statement does not dissuade me of the notion that his love of Annabella is selfish although he is comparing her beauty to that worthy of the gods, he fails to actually recognise Annabella as an individual, often refers to her as beautiful but love is not gained through attraction alone in my contemporary understanding of the term but through a more deep connection between the two individuals. Another way in Giovanni shows selfishness in his supposed love for Annabella is in Act 1 Scene 2 where Giovanni dramatically professes his love for her then offers her an ultimatum by handling her a dagger which the forfeit being his life. “And hers my breast, strike home”. This so called choice he gives Annabella is deceitful in the sense that he knows Annabella would never kill him no matter the circumstances this therefore allows the audience to be aware of the subtle manipulation Giovanni constantly employs to keep Annabella entranced with him. This power he holds over her is important as Ford carefully constructs the events of the play to leave Annabella as the one to blame for the eventful destruction of her family through no fault of her own. ”Tis pity she’s a whore”. The final line of the play spoken by the cardinal supports this as Giovanni is never seemed to be blamed even though he was the one who essentially instigated their sordid love affair. The parallels that are able to be drawn between Giovanni and Dr Faustus are immense due to their reliance of their intelligence in order to cover up their wrongdoings. Cyrus hoy a critics comments on this “Fords Giovanni is a young Faustus … both exhibit fatal intellectual pride… destroying themselves by specious reasoning and an easy sense of superiority”. I ultimately agree with this statement as one aspect of both Giovanni and Faustus characterisations that led to their eventual downfall is their intelligence and hubris which they believed exceeded the greatness of God. Faustus craved knowledge and power over God and Giovanni valued the conquest of his sister over God but through adamant reasoning allowed him to act upon his feelings. Giovanni’s way of expressing his feelings to Annabella although dramatic was typical of those renaissance times where Shakespeare inspired a generation of young lotharios hell-bent on capturing beauty and advancing their situations through the benefits of a upwards union rather than actually seeking love as the integral part of a marriage.
Bergetto the sometimes lovable idiot over times insufferable fool is Ford’s way of showing although many different loves exist in the world the pure innocence of childhood love can never be broken, altered or forced. Bergetto is in all respect the child of the play, his lack of social graces, his inability to keep focus on anything and his playfulness show how love in a child can never be bought. This idea is prevalent in many of noted poet William Blake who believes in the innocence of childhood, Blake’s insight into children and their pure essence allows me to understand Bergetto’s character more and the motivations behind his actions. “Does my uncle think to make me a baby still” Bergetto even in his playfulness understands the manipulations his uncle (Donado) puts him under in order to secure a partnership with Florio. In Act 3 Scene 1 we understand that even through his innocence he understands when he’s being manipulated and will not allow his uncle to prevent him from his true love Philotis “’Sfoot I will have this wench, if he were ten uncles” although he using the crude colloquialism of ‘Wench’ to describe her we do understand that this love is in spite of what can be gained with his union of Philotis and the eventual dissolution of the relationship with him and his uncle. This love I believe is not selfish but I’m not sure if whether the love is unable to be selfish due to the idiocy of Bergetto and the reliance of individuals such as Bergetto on their most basic innate desire/emotions such as happiness, sadness and most importantly love.
The idea of filial love is a faintly modern ideal as within Fords time period one of the sole purposes of children was to show off so to speak that their parents had the ability to have children was to ‘show off’ to coin the phrase that their parents possessed the ability to procreate. They were also used as bargaining points in order to further their status or wealth. Florio (the father of Giovanni and Annabella) love towards his children on some level does show a caring fatherly figure that has the best interests of his children at heart. But as an audience we also see some deceit in order to improve his social standing. ‘I will not force my daughter ‘gainst her will’. Here we see Florio going against the social norm of Fathers setting up their children in order to change or improve their circumstances for instances status or wealth in this instance status would have been changed with Annabella and Soranzo’s union because Florio by no means was poor but due to his situation as a merchant he would not be treated as highly as someone with a noble position due to earning his money rather than being born into wealth. “Of your still rising honour have prevailed above all other jointures”. Here we see Florio has already made up his mind about which suitor he prefers for Annabella ‘rising honours’ shows that Florio has already weighed up the pros or cons of all Annabella’s suitors (Soranzo, Grimaldi, Bergetto, etc.) and has found Soranzo to be the best. Whether Florio’s love for his children is selfish or not we are unable to give a conclusive judgement as we see very little of Florio throughout the play but this may have been a clever ploy by Ford to show how parents were not fully involved in their children’s lives unless it suited their purpose however the death of Florio upon discovering the incest between his children may be Fords way of showing although some aspects of Florio’s relationship is selfish in a sense there is a love shown in his death in a small way but another interpretation may have been that he was so ashamed and was worried that his reputation was ruined that it cause his heart to give out. If love is the most selfish of emotions then filial love may be the biggest indication of it but whether that idea still holds true may be an oversight in the giant leaps society has made in many respects such as attitudes to marriage and children.
The many different types of love displayed in ‘Tis pity’ involve us in the audience on whether or not the love is truthful or motivated by lust, money or avarice but very rarely does almost every character seem to embody all types of selfish love Soranzo & Grimaldi (avarice), Giovanni (Lust), Florio & Putana (Greed), Vasquez (Envy/Wrath). The true victim of ‘Tis pity’ are those who do not have the power to reject the love thrust upon them due to their lack of power but yes love is selfish regardless of the imperative vow taken from the bible which highlights what love should be. “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered”.

I love writing this essay because ‘Tis Pity’ was low key amazing and writing about such a secondary theme in detail was fun. Not my best but definitely not my worst


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