At the very end of John Ford's 'Tis Pity She's a Whore (c. 1633), a Cardinal steps forward to sort through an extraordinary story of incest and murder 'strangely met' (5.6.158) and to impose closure on the resulting spectacle of slaughter. Gesturing, we might imagine, to the disembodied and impaled heart of Annabella, the woman loved and killed by her brother, the Cardinal poses a stunning rhetorical question: 'Of one so young, so rich in nature's story, / Who could not say, 'tis pity she's a whore?' (5.6.159-60). The play's title clearly anticipates and emphasises the final tag. Also in their placement, these lines stand out as the provocative capstone of the complex and perplexing drama which precedes.
And yet, while the Cardinal's remark presumes and so precludes a response, that response is itself highly questionable. Where the Cardinal asks 'who could not say, 'tis pity she's a whore', we might well ask who could or indeed would? Annabella, the 'she' in question, is indictable on many fronts: she has engaged in an incestuous affair with her brother and, to cover her resulting pregnancy, she has married and deceived an unsuspecting nobleman, Soranzo. Upon learning her secret, Soranzo condemns her as a 'whore of whores' (4.3.20), as well as a 'strumpet', a 'rare, notable harlot', and an 'excellent quean', which all add up to the same thing (4.3.1, 4, 25). Otherwise, and even so, the charge of 'whore' seems at once to underplay Annabella's incestuous actions and to overplay her breach of marital fidelity.