A Woman Killed with Kindness

by Thomas Heywood

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*Yorkshire. Historic county in northern England in which the play is set. Yorkshire and its inhabitants are usually described as bleak, independent, dour, and craggy. The play’s regional setting, with Yorkshire’s small, self-policing communities, middle-class marriages, religious underpinnings, and bumpkin servants, is typical of domestic tragedy dramas. Unlike other plays usually grouped with it, however, Heywood’s experimental play is not based on any known contemporary scandal.

Frankford’s house

Frankford’s house. Home of the provincial gentleman John Frankford. A large house and rural estate that is one of the finest in Yorkshire, Frankford’s home symbolizes the confident wealth of this gentleman-farmer and his new marriage to his aristocratic wife, Anne. The house itself may be viewed as one of the principal presences in the play, a kingdom in which the husband is regent.

By using a comical array of servants, key social rituals, and unusually extensive stage directions, Heywood constructs a realistic portrait of household activity. The subversion of Frankford’s marriage and middle-class values of hospitality is symbolized by his having to break into his own house at night, like a robber. He is barely prevented from killing his wife’s lover by an anonymous maid, whom some critics have read as the domestic spirit of the house itself.

Mountford’s estate

Mountford’s estate. Neighboring estate of the provincial nobleman Sir Charles Mountford, in central Yorkshire, that has been in Mountford’s family for three hundred years. After killing two men in a fight over a wager, Sir Charles is forced to spend his patrimony, descending into poverty and eventually prison in York Castle. The importance of house and land to his family’s honor becomes apparent when Sir Charles opts to sacrifice his willing sister to an unhappy marriage and likely suicide rather than lose his property.


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Adams, Henry Hitch. English Domestic: Or, Homiletic Tragedy 1575 to 1642. New York: Columbia University Press, 1943. A Woman Killed with Kindness gets a chapter in this comprehensive study. Stresses that it is not Elizabethan psychology but religious didacticism that drives the plot.

Baines, Barbara J. Thomas Heywood. Boston: Twayne, 1984. An excellent overview of Heywood’s life and works, with a list of primary sources and an annotated secondary bibliography. Analyzes in detail the themes and structure of A Woman Killed with Kindness and responds to criticisms of the play’s characterizations and moral vision.

Clark, Arthur Melville. Thomas Heywood: Playwright and Miscellanist. New York: Russell & Russell, 1967. A detailed account of Heywood’s life and career. A chapter praises A Woman Killed with Kindness as preeminent among domestic tragedies and says it “anticipates the bloodless tragedies of Ibsen.”

Heywood, Thomas. A Woman Killed with Kindness. Edited by R. W. Van Fossen. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1961. A superb modern edition with full notes, an appendix on the source of the subplot, and analyses of sources, theme, structure, characters, style, stage history, and the text.

Velte, Mowbray. The Bourgeois Elements in the Dramas of Thomas Heywood. New York: Haskell House, 1966. Finds the main plot much superior to the subplot and discusses their parallels to their sources. Praises A Woman Killed with Kindness for its realism and points out that the play does not resort to a depiction of a murder or a sensational local event.

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