Academic journal article Early Modern Literary Studies

‘I Haue Paid the Duty to the Sonne, Which I Haue Vowed to the Father’: Serving the Father in John Ford’s ’Tis Pity She’s A Whore

Academic journal article Early Modern Literary Studies

‘I Haue Paid the Duty to the Sonne, Which I Haue Vowed to the Father’: Serving the Father in John Ford’s ’Tis Pity She’s A Whore

Article excerpt

Introduction

In his commentary on the body of critical responses to the play, Martin White observed that: '[d]espite the fact that it only occupies around a third of the running time, the majority of performances and critical responses to 'Tis Pity (1633)1 have focused on the incestuous relationship of Annabella and Giovanni and, in particular, the balance between approval and criticism in Ford's treatment of the characters'.2 Even though the incestuous relationship at the centre of the play continues to receive attention out of proportion with the space it occupies in the play, as White suggests, there has recently been a turn away from this restrictive focus and an increasing openness to addressing other topics raised by the play. Questions of the play's relationship to the increasing interest in the period in the culture of anatomy and the interior of the human body,3 of gender, of its relationship to Catholicism,4 to the Sacrament of Penance, and of Ford's dramaturgy have been the focus of recent critical assessments.5 Ford's re-working of themes and characters found in earlier plays, notably Romeo and Juliet, Othello, and Dr Faustus, has proved a fruitful angle from which to examine the play.6 The incestuous relationship has itself been rescued from moral judgments and freshly approached as, in one instance, a trope for contemporary anxieties about alliances between different classes.7 Feminist readings of the play have focused on Annabella and her refusal of objectification in the marriage market.8 Emblem books and culture have been fruitfully drawn upon for the purpose of unpacking the image of the heart on the dagger that materializes in Act V, Scene vi, this approach having been first taken by Huston Diehl and later developed further by Michael Neill, whose work has enriched our understanding of the play's depiction of patriarchy and the assertion of masculine power over the dissected, hence subjected, female body.9 This brief overview of new directions the criticism of the play has taken demonstrates the long way it has come since Stuart Pratt Sherman condemned 'Tis Pity as Ford's 'Contribution to the Decadence of the Drama' in 1908.10 Much of this criticism has illuminated the play and enriched our appreciation of it, and my intellectual debt to this scholarship will be apparent throughout this work and dutifully acknowledged. Ford's play, however, for me, still has a lot to say. Despite the fact that many aspects of the play, previously unattended to, have received attention, one particular aspect remains puzzlingly absent from critical accounts: the experience of household servants. Prominent and instrumental as they are in the play, the servants remain silent in criticism directed at it.11 This article offers an original contribution to the already considerable body of critical responses to 'Tis Pity, seeking to fill in this gap and address this lack.

The Institution of Domestic Service in Early Modern English Culture and Criticism

Domestic service occupied a central position in early modern English society, culture and thought systems. 'It could be said that service', as Peter Laslett writes, 'was practically a universal characteristic of pre-industrial English society'.12 This was a society, according to Kevin Sharpe, 'organized around service relationships'.13 This idea was best captured by a contemporary moralist who stated: 'euen they who are superiours to some, are inferiours to others: [...] The master that hath seruants under him, may be vnder the authoritie of a Magistrate'.14 According to Michael Neill, when service is broadly understood, early modern society could be seen to have featured 'an unbroken chain that stretched from the lowliest peasant to the monarch (who himself owed service to God)'.15 Household service, the focus of this paper, was undertaken by, according to historians' estimates, no less than '60 per cent of the population aged fifteen to twenty-four'.16 They were to be found in 29 per cent of all households in the period. …

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