Queen Elizabeth And Annabella In Tis Pity She's A Whore By John Ford

3370 words - 13 pages

Queen Elizabeth and Annabella in "Tis Pity She's a Whore" by John Ford

Annabella, the female protagonist in John Ford’s play, ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore, ultimately dies after trying to meet the conflicting demands that her brother and father place on her. While her brother, Giovanni, commands her to be his clandestine lover, her father, Florio, expects her to marry a socially appropriate man and bear a child. These demands closely resemble the real-life demands that Queen Elizabeth I’s subjects placed on her because they simultaneously wanted her to fulfill their erotic desires, marry a politically appropriate man, and produce an heir to the throne. Ford’s play “was first published in 1633,” thirty years after the death of Queen Elizabeth I, but “nostalgia… in the late 1620’s and 1630’s… [drove] people…to measure a worsening political situation against inevitably heightened memories or impressions of what life had been like under the great queen” (Morris vii; Barton 724). While it’s not clear whether this nostalgia for the reign of Elizabeth drove Ford when he wrote his play, there are clear parallels between the demands that were placed on the factual Elizabeth and on the fictional Annabella; moreover, there are striking parallels between the responses to the two women’s deaths.

Both women were expected to forever remain objects of male erotic desire, and the characteristics of Elizabeth that evoked erotic desire in her subjects parallel the characteristics of Annabella that elicit erotic desire in Giovanni. Just as “courtiers paid homage to Elizabeth as an ever-youthful yet unapproachable object of desire[,]” Giovanni confesses to Annabella, “[T]he view / Of thy immortal beauty hath untuned / All harmony both of my rest and life” (King 59; Pity 1.2.212-214). “[T]he erotic dynamics of Elizabethan rule…involv[ed]…the construction of an ambiguous desire for the queen, not as monarch but as woman” (Mullaney 148). Giovanni hints at a similar tension within himself when he tells Annabella, “I envy not the mightiest man alive, / But hold myself in being king of thee / More great than were I king of all the world” (2.1.18-20). Ruling over and taking command of Annabella’s body is the only type of monarchy that interests him, and in an effort to achieve this goal, he uses “[t]he conventions of courtly love poetry, with its chaste, unattainable, superior woman, desired and sought by an admiring, subservient, faithful male suitor, [which] were especially appropriate for articulating complex relationships between Queen Elizabeth and the ambitious courtiers seeking her favors” (Guibbory 814). Confessing his love to Annabella through courtly love poetry, Giovanni says:

The poets feign, I read,
That Juno for her forehead did exceed
All other goddesses: but I durst swear
Your forehead exceeds hers, as hers did theirs.
(1.2.186-189)

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