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The Forbidden Relationships In Ford’S ‘Tis Pity She’S A Whore’ And Hawthorne’S ‘The Scarlet Letter’

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Hawthorne’s tragic romance novel, ‘The Scarlet Letter’ centres on the adulterer Hester Prynne who is condemned to live a life of solitude and singlehandedly raise the child she produced out of sin in a harsh, critical puritan society. Hester has an illicit affair with a character later revealed in the story, for this she is judged and brought forth into town for all to see and berate. Her crime of sleeping with another man is placed on exhibition an excessive punishment is therefore placed upon her. ‘…She was made the common infamy, at which all mankind was summoned to point its finger’ Hester was to be known for committing a crime against God, she was made ‘the common infamy’ meaning all would know her for her wrong doing. The people gathered to mock her and she was used by the Puritan society as an example of the consequences of forbidden relations and sin.

The Scarlet letter focuses on the strict nature of Puritan society; written after the Puritan era, it offers criticism on the judgemental characteristics and radical beliefs the Puritans possess. Hawthorne draws attention to the treatment of women and the way sins are severely punished. The puritan society of Boston mirrors actual society and Hawthorne uses this to express his views. Hester’s punishment is to not only be imprisoned and publicly shamed but to also be branded with the letter A for adulterer. ‘The penalty thereof is death. But in the mercy and tenderness of heart…they have doomed Mistress Prynne…to wear a mark of shame upon her bosom. ’ Ironically, this punishment is neither merciful nor tender as it envelops Hester in her sin and outcasts her from the world. The puritans believe that she deserves to die for a sin she didn’t commit alone but instead of killing her they decided to humiliate her and make her serve as a tale of the consequences of forbidden sin. She has to live with the repercussions of her forbidden love affair daily, she is ostracized and forced to bear the shame alone. ‘Man has marked this woman’s sin by a scarlet letter, which has such potent and disastrous efficacy that no human sympathy could save her, save it were sinful like herself. ’ Being branded with the A objectifies her, the A brands her as sin personified. She is imprisoned by the letter A as it tells a story to those who know her and those who don’t that she is a sinner, she is forever reminded of what she’s done and has no way of escaping. Her sin has been so greatly frowned upon that she believes nobody has sinned as greatly as her. She has committed an unpardonable sin and ‘raised a great scandal’ that according to the multitude warrants the most severe punishment ‘At the very least, they should have put the brand of a hot iron on Hester Prynne’s forehead’. The people of Puritan society are as judgemental and as violent as their leaders. Even the women whom the reader expects to show some form of compassion and mercy gather intently to watch Hester be penalized ‘…the women, of whom there were several in the crowd, appeared to take a peculiar interest in whatever penal infliction might be expected to ensue. ’ Women like Hester maybe sinners alike, gathered to watch her and participated in her ridicule. They enjoyed watching her be put to shame. The men and women of the town are self-righteous.

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The scarlet letter is apparently based on a true story of a woman named Hester Craford who fornicated and became pregnant. She was ordered to be severely whipped but this was delayed until she gave birth to her illegitimate child. It is alleged that when the Scarlet letter was first published, some religious leaders complained that Hester had not been punished enough. Furthermore, Hawthorne delves further into the puritan beliefs as he focuses on Pearl, Hester’s illegitimate child. They believed children were born into their parent’s sin and Pearl a product of adultery. Pearl is a punishment in human form, ‘In giving her existence a law had been broken’ Hester was suffering not only for having an affair but bringing the child produced from it to life. ‘Pearl was a born outcast of the infantile world. An imp of evil, emblem and product of sin, she had no right among christened infants. Pearl is a permanent mark of sin from God, a constant reminder of her Hester’s sin not just to her but to the public. She is impure and just like her mother is sin personified. A physical manifestation of adultery, she is as bad as the sin in which she is a result of and has no place in Puritan society.

Similarly, Ford’s revenge tragedy ‘Tis Pity she’s a whore’, explores the severe consequences of forbidden relationships in a strict religious society. The tragedy takes place in Parma and tells the tale of the forbidden relationship between siblings Giovanni and Annabella. Giovanni and Annabella’s incestuous relationship leads Parma into complete destruction and downfall; they are defiant in their desire and passion to the very end. Giovanni knows that the strict catholic society of Parma forbids him to be in love and lay with his sister yet the more he tries to suppress his feelings the stronger they get. ‘I have too long suppressed my hidden flames, That almost have consum’d me;’ Giovanni is drawn to the forbidden but he cannot express it aloud because he knows it is wrong and his actions carry consequences. He longs for Annabella but cannot have her publicly which kills him inside. Giovanni desires Annabella but his desire cannot be spoken of outside, there is something about this relationship’s forbidden nature that makes him love it more. Giovanni tries to justify this relationship to the friar and to Annabella, he attempts to rationalise the relationship in a way that will soften its wrongdoing. ‘Say that we had one father, say one womb [curse to my joys] gave both us life and birth; Are we not therefore each to the other bound So much more by nature;’ Giovanni tells Annabella that because they are born of the same womb their love is more natural. It is fate that they are together because they are from the same parents and are bound by this reason. Arnold Schmidt says ‘Giovanni’s intellectual pride drives him to employ logic and argument to justify his incestuous desires, rather than to inhibit them. ’

Giovanni is supposed to continue supressing his feelings but he can’t and tries to manipulate Annabella into following his reasoning. Deep down Giovanni knows that a bad end is inevitable and what he and Annabella do in the dark will come to light. ‘Lost! I am lost! my fates have doom’d my death / The more I strive, I love; the more I love, / The less I hope: I see my ruin certain. The more Giovanni’s love for his sister grows, the closer he gets to his deathbed. His ruin ‘certain’, Giovanni knows that his end is inescapable. In the 17th Century, the subject of incest became increasingly important. The audience were concerned about sexuality and gender, religious leaders sought to police sexuality by encouraging monogamy and sanctioning sexual immorality like incest. Audience and critics have argued on whether Ford sympathises with incestuous lovers, criticising them or simply shedding light on the consequences of such sin. Like Hester, Annabella also falls pregnant as a result of her forbidden relationship however; she and her unborn child meet a violent end. Towards the end of the story, there is a dark turn and the audience witness the repercussions of a sinful relationship. Giovanni and Annabella succeeded in not only destroying themselves but taking everyone they were involved with down too. According to Larry S. Champion ‘’Tis Pity She’s a Whore is a tragedy of a whole society as much as it the tragedy of an individual. The tragedy focused not just on the two forbidden lovers but on the havoc they wreaked on society in their final moments. Ford’s play mirrors other tragedies but he insists on introducing topics that people have never seen before in order to get attention.

Hypocrisy is also central theme in ‘Scarlet letter’ and ‘Tis Pity’. In Scarlet letter Hester’s lover is revealed to be Reverend Dimmesdale, the same man who stood amongst men and condemned her, the man who told her to reveal the name of the man she sinned with and got angry when she refused to divulge his name. “Be not silent from any mistaken pity and tenderness for him; for, believe me, Hester, though he were to step down from a high place, and stand there beside thee, on thy pedestal of shame, yet better were it so, than to hide a guilty heart through life. What can thy silence do for him, except it tempt him —yea, compel him, as it were — to add hypocrisy to sin?” Dimmesdale is being hypocritical as he wants Hester to confess his sins for him but he also knows that she won’t give his name up. He describes himself when he talks about stepping down from a high place and standing aside Hester on the scaffold, he knows he has to but he has too much too lose and would rather cover up his sin. He is hypocritical for badgering Hester to confess knowing that she is not going to do as she wants to protect him. Hawthorne uses Dimmesdale to represent and mock the holy Puritans of the church, labelling them the most hypocritical and worst sinners of all. Dimmesdale is respected and walks among the revered yet he sinned with Hester and didn’t confess. He is a great sinner, as bad as Hester which he knows but him being a man amongst great men makes it almost impossible for him to confess his sins ‘The minister well knew – subtle, but remorseful hypocrite that he was’. Author Nathaniel Hawthorne writes, ‘No man for any considerable period can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be the true. ‘ The Scarlet letter exposes how corrupt the puritans are and how quick they are to judge. 17th Century women found guilty of adultery were punished severely while the men weren’t. Dimmesdale doesn’t endure the same public humiliation Hester does ‘He bears no letter of infamy wrought into his garment, as thou dost. ’ he gets to internalise his shame, and he isn’t publicly humiliated like Hester. The revelation of Dimmesdale being guilty didn’t change much even though he confessed with his own mouth because he was respected and people thought he was doing it to be humble. He represents a shortcoming of the puritans, Hawthorne presents the male figure of the church as weak, the man who is supposed to flee from sin and lead Hester in the path of righteousness leads her away from it. Dimmesdale also possesses some Machiavellian qualities ‘ …the Reverend master Dimmesdale, her godly pastor, takes it very grievously to his heart that such a scandal should have come upon his congregation. ’ He is referred to as ‘godly’ multiple times but is far from it; he appears one way yet is another. He acts holy but is a sinner just like the woman he condemns.

Ford also explores this double standard which women are held to and the hypocrisy of the society they live in. The cardinal just like the puritans is corrupt and selfish despite being a man of calibre and well respected. A character that exhibits hypocrisy the most is Soranzo as he constantly contradicts himself and his actions. When Soranzo discovers Annabella is pregnant he insults her and handles her rather violently. ‘[Enter Soranzo unbraced, and dragging in Annabella. ] Come, strumpet, famous whore! were every drop Of blood that runs in thy adulterous veins…’ Soranzo manhandles Annabella and calls her an adulterer which is hypocritical of him as he slept with a married woman. Soranzo is the real adulterer for wooing and sleeping with Hippolita. Soranzo courted Hippolita before abandoning her and when she confronted him he blamed her and told her to repent. ‘Woman, come here no more; Learn to repent, and die; for by my honour, I hate thee and thy lust: you have been too foul’ Soranzo and Hippolita both committed a sin and did wrong yet Soranzo absolves himself of any wrong doing and tells her to repent. He hates her and her lust even though he is the one who was lusting after her. Ginny Randall says that ‘the focus of the play does seem to be on the political and ecclesiastical abuses of power and hypocrisy rather than punishing the incestuous couple for behaving in a morally repugnant way.

By using incest to expose the corruption evident in society, Ford asks the audience to focus less on the morality of the issue and more on the societal corruption elucidated. ’Sin and guilt plague both Hester and Dimmesdale, Hester is forced to confront the consequences of her sin and live with the guilt forever whilst Dimmesdale keeps his sin a secret and hides his guilt. ‘Had Hester sinned alone’ this question arose after Hester was shamed publicly for having an affair whilst the man she had an affair with identity remained hidden. Dimmesdale never came forward as the man who she had sinned with, therefore wronging her and harbouring more guilt on his conscience. As a result of his guilt, Dimmesdale turns to isolation and fasts in order for forgiveness. He subjects himself to punishment through intense fasting and self-flagellation with hopes of repentance and being free of guilt. ‘In Mr Dimmesdale’s secret closet…there was a bloody scourge. ’ He resorted to methods used by old, hard-core puritans in order to rid himself of his guilt. ‘It was his custom, too…to fast-…rigorously, and until his knees trembled beneath him as an act of penance. He kept vigils, likewise, night after night sometimes in utter darkness…’ Dimmesdale wants to purge his soul, punish himself for his sin, he brutalises himself to the point that he hallucinates and becomes haggard. When he and Hester meet in the forest for the first time he doesn’t have a guilty conscience, he talks about running away with Hester and Pearl into a new life. Dimmesdale went against his religious morals by sleeping with Hester and even though couldn’t, he wanted to be with her. ‘Neither can I any longer live without her companionship;’ He couldn’t be without her ‘any longer’ showing that he did indeed want her but was held by the repressive puritan society. This links back to the unspeakable desire, longing for someone and wanting them the more when you know you can’t have them. This joy is short lived as the ‘conscience-stricken priest’ goes to confess his sins with Hester and Pearl ‘the sin born child’ by his side. ‘At last! – at last! – I stand upon the spot where, seven years since, I should have stood, here, with this woman, ’ Evidently, the guilt of his sin against God and Hester has troubled him deeply as he acknowledges that he should have confessed long ago. Dimmesdale barely has the strength to address the public showing that the guilt has physically and mentally strained him. After confessing his sin, he dies. ‘By bringing me hither, to die this death of triumphant ignominy before the people!’ He appreciates the fact that he was able to confess his sins and free his mind of guilt before he takes his last breath. Hawthorne suffered guilt similar to Dimmesdale; his ancestor was a leading judge in the Salem witch trials which lead him to change his name from Hathorne to Hawthorne. In the same way, Giovanni tries to purge himself of sinful thoughts towards Annabella in the beginning. He too, per the friar’s advice locks himself in his room, isolating himself from the world and fasting till he is sick. ‘…even starved my veins with daily fasts. ’

Like Dimmesdale, Giovanni fasts daily in an unhealthy way to purge himself of unclean thoughts and get rid of his guilt. This doesn’t work and he later admits his guilt to Annabella. “The laws of conscience and of civil use / May justly blame us” He is fully aware that their relationship was wrong and instead of quelling the desire that fuelled the sinful relationship, he fed into it and made Annabella feed into it too. Giovanni and Annabella both die as a result of their sin catching up to them. ‘Death thou art a guest longed looked for’. The Christian society believes that the wages of sin is death so these two sinners got what they deserved.

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