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Review: 'Tis Pity She's a Whore and Other Plays 
5th-Sep-2009 04:06 pm

'Tis Pity She's a Whore and Other Plays: The Lover's Melancholy; The Broken Heart; 'Tis Pity She's a Whore; Perkin Warbeck (Oxford World's Classics) 'Tis Pity She's a Whore and Other Plays: The Lover's Melancholy; The Broken Heart; 'Tis Pity She's a Whore; Perkin Warbeck by John Ford

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This collection of four plays by John Ford is a bit of a mixed bag.

The Lover's Melancholy is a wonderful play for people who think that the best thing about Shakespearean comedy is the cross-dressing. There are some laugh out-loud funny scenes generated by all the gender confusion - for example, there's a scene where a female character, finding her sexual advances rejected by the heroine (disguised as a boy), berates "him" at length for his lack of manliness. Doubly funny when you remember that all these parts would have been played by boys pretending to be girls in the first place. Otherwise, the play is pretty forgettable, but if I ever got the chance to see it performed, I think I'd take it.

I really struggled with The Broken Heart. Part of it is that it has a very large cast of characters, and I simply had trouble keeping track of who was who. (The dramatis personae, which I assume is reproduced faithfully from the first edition, doesn't help by giving characters rather short and cryptic descriptions. We have characters described as "flower of beauty", "honour of loveliness", "noise", "trusty", and "vexation".) Second, the tragedy of this piece revolves entirely around the female characters' inability to command their own destiny and secure their own happiness against the wills of their fathers, husbands, and brothers. This is a common thread in Jacobean/Caroline drama, but I found that Ford never brought the female characters sufficiently to life for me to really feel sympathy for them. I kept finding myself wishing that they'd take a hint from the heroine of The Lover's Melancholy - run away, come back dressed as a man, and use their counterfeit male privilege to secure a better outcome for themselves. (Maybe this is a danger or reading the same author's comedies and tragedies in close succession.)

I'm willing to bet that I'd like The Broken Heart much better if I actually saw it performed, with good actors to breathe life into the characters. It does have a rather gripping ending, with a rather inventive revenge killing - I'm sure it would stage very well.

'Tis Pity She's a Whore reminded me a lot of Middleton's Women Beware Women, a play with which it shares the plot devices of brother/sister incest and an man trying to marry off a particularly idiotic ward. I think Middleton writes more sympathetic female characters. In 'Tis Pity, I didn't much care for the rather hapless Annabella, who manages to seem like a bit of a doormat even when she's conceiving a forbidden passion for her own brother. I preferred Hippolita, an older woman who sets out for vengeance when her lover dumps her to marry the younger and better socially connected Annabella. Ford doesn't allow her to succeed in her vengeance, but at least she gets to take an active part in the play.

Perkin Warbeck is an oddity - a history play written in the 1630s, when history plays had long been out of fashion. And rather unexpectedly, it was probably my favorite play in this volume. Unless you're very up on your early Tudor history, you'll probably want to read this with Wikipedia or a good history book on the period close at hand. Perkin Warbeck was a pretender to the throne of England who claimed to be Richard, the younger of Edward IV's two sons. (These two sons being the "princes in the tower" whose deaths suspiciously paved the way for Richard III to take the throne of England.) Warbeck raised a rebellion against Henry VII, which Henry promptly crushed. It makes a good story, but the most interesting thing is probably Ford's portrayal of Henry VII. I don't know a lot about the historical Henry VII - any monarch who falls between Richard III and Henry VIII really has to fight for attention. The Henry VII portrayed by Ford is crafty, determined to hang onto his throne, but also desperately longing for peace and willing to be merciful nearly to a fault. It's tempting to think that Ford meant to hold up Henry VII as a model for his own monarch, Charles I, who faced his own threats to the legitimacy of his rule with less good grace.

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6th-Sep-2009 02:02 am (UTC)
H7 is interesting. A lot of his kid's ostentation looks to me to be a reaction to H7 being one of the few monarchs who actually paid attention to the royal treasury (possibly because he didn't start out a monarch!).
7th-Sep-2009 12:41 am (UTC)
Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. It's certainly hard to imagine Henry VIII running things the same way if he'd ever had to cope with the kind of fiscal chaos that regularly afflicted the Plantagenet kings. (I vividly remember a story about how one year, Henry VI didn't get Christmas dinner because nobody would deliver any more food until he paid his debts. Poor Henry VI.)
6th-Sep-2009 11:04 pm (UTC)
Ooh. Can I borrow?
7th-Sep-2009 12:44 am (UTC)
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