Baldly stated, critical responses to ’Tis Pity for the past 400 years have returned time and time again to two linked issues: Ford’s attitude to the incestuous relationship of Giovanni and Annabella – perceived by many to be at best ambivalent, at worst sympathetic – and the extent to which Giovanni can be considered a heroic figure or Annabella a victim. (There are, of course, notable exceptions to these preoccupations, especially the essays included in the collections edited by Anderson (1986), Neill (1988) and Hopkins (2010), and the book-length studies by Sargeaunt (1935), Oliver (1955), Leech (1957) and Stavig (1968) – though these rightly touch on those questions.) While it is true, as McCabe notes, that a ‘tone of moral insecurity … pervades the entire text’, it is equally important to recognize that incestuous love ‘is its theme, not its platform’ (1993: 229) and that its strength as a play derives precisely from Ford’s refusal either to exonerate or condemn Annabella and Giovanni. However, critics have repeatedly confused sympathy with approval, so that until comparatively recently the word most often used to describe author and play has been ‘decadent’, which as Wymer notes, ‘conveniently combine[s] moral and aesthetic implications’ (1995: 87).
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