A Woman Killed With Kindness Summary

Thomas Heywood

A Woman Killed With Kindness

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A Woman Killed With Kindness Summary

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A Woman Killed With Kindness is a play by British playwright Thomas Heywood, it was first performed in 1603 and published in 1607. Focusing on a married couple, Master John Frankford and his wife Anne, the play’s action centers around a houseguest named Wendoll who takes advantage of John’s hospitality to seduce Anne. When Frankford finds out, his decision to ostracize his wife sends her down a self-destructive path of self-imposed punishment. This story is contrasted with a subplot focusing on Sir Charles Mountford and his virtuous sister Susan, who refuses her brother’s efforts to use her sexuality to get him out of debt. Exploring themes of female sexuality, the relationships between men and women at the time, and the social norms of the Elizabethan era, A Woman Killed With Kindness is considered Heywood’s masterpiece and is still read and studied today. Its plot is largely taken from an Italian novel by Illicini, translated and reprinted in William Painter’s The Palace of Pleasure in 1566.

A Woman Killed With Kindness begins as John and Anne Frankford celebrate their wedding in the company of friends and family. Everyone remarks on how beautiful Anne is and how she dutifully submits to her husband. At the wedding celebration, Sir Francis Acton and Sir Charles Mountford arrange a bet on the next day’s Falconry competition. At the next morning’s competition, Acton and Mountford go into the field to loose their falcons. Acton loses the bet, but accuses Mountford of breaking the rules. An argument erupts, which soon breaks into a fight. Mountford kills two of Acton’s men. Susan, Mountford’s sister, advises him to flee before Acton can take revenge, but he refuses to leave her and is soon arrested by the Sheriff. Frankford, meanwhile, is enjoying his new life as a married man and reflecting on how blessed he is by the presence of his young, virtuous wife. This is when Wendoll, a member of the hunting party, arrives at the manor to report the fatal fight. Frankford, impressed with Wendoll’s maturity, invites the shell-shocked young man to stay as a guest in his house. Nicholas, Frankford’s loyal servant, thinks to himself that there’s something untrustworthy about Wendoll, but neither he nor Frankford’s other servants say this out loud.

Mountford spends almost his entire fortune to gain release from jail, and needs to borrow money from the loan shark, Shafton. Unbeknownst to him, Shafton plans to use this debt to gain Mountford’s ancestral house and also win the hand of Susan. In Mountford’s house, Wendoll becomes infatuated with Anne. Although his conscience eats at him, he finds himself constantly distracted by her beauty. When Frankford leaves on a business trip, Anne tells Wendoll that Frankford wished Wendoll would fulfill his role in the household in his absence. Wendoll is overcome and tells Anne how much he loves her. Anne resists at first, but is overcome by his insistence that she can love both him and Frankford. Unbeknownst to both of them, Nicholas overhears their tryst and vows to bring the affair to Frankford’ss attention. As Mountford’s debt to Shafton comes due, Shafton tries to buy his house and has Mountford arrested when he refuses to sell. Acton, hearing of Mountford’s misfortune, decides to seduce Susan as his revenge on Mountford, However, when he sees her, he genuinely falls in love with Susan. Frankford returns and learns from Nicholas what went on in his absence. Determined to uncover the truth, he observes his wife and friend closely during a card game with a guest, Cranwell. It soon becomes clear to him that Nicholas was telling the truth.

When Susan is unable to get help for her brother from her uncle or other wealthy associates, she is approached by Acton with an offer to clear her brother’s debt. She refuses, but Acton acts anyway, and clears Mountford’s debt anonymously. Mountford is enraged when he learns that Acton was responsible, and Susan confesses that she believes he did it because of his infatuation with her. Feeling ashamed of his debt to Acton, Mountford feels that the only thing he can do is pay his debt by marrying off Susan to his enemy. At the Frankfords, Nicholas presents a false letter, arranged by Frankford, that will take him away on another business trip. Wendoll, happy to have his romantic rival gone, wastes no time in seducing Anne again, but Anne’s conscience bothers her greatly. She is consumed with guilt after her affair with Wendoll, and doesn’t know that Frankford has actually been watching the two of them the whole time. He breaks into the house, attacks Wendoll with a sword, and is stopped by one of his servants from murdering him. Anne, ashamed, asks him to kill her, but he says that death is too good for her. He banishes her to a small house on the estate, where she is to live in seclusion and never see him again.

Mountford suggests to Susan that she give herself to Acton in exchange for the clearing of his debt. Susan objects on the grounds of her virtue, and Mountford says that his soul will be unable to rest until Acton is repaid. She reluctantly relents, and when Acton arrives at their house, Mountford resentfully offers his sister as payment. Acton is overcome by this gesture. A rich man, he never would have dreamed of marrying a woman from a lesser class, but he states he’ll proudly take her as his wife. Meanwhile, Anne is sent into exile with her servants. Nicholas gives her her lute before she goes, but she can only think of the marriage she is leaving behind. Wendoll, who has also realized the error of his ways, meets her on the road and tries to express his regret. However, fearing that she will tempted again, Anne orders the coachman to drive away from him and take her to the house where she will live out her life alone. A short while later, Frankford learns that Anne is near-death, having never recovered from her grief and regret. He goes to her while she still lingers and tells her he forgives her sins, allowing her to die with a clear conscience. After she dies, he asks for her epitaph to describe her as a woman killed by her husband’s kindness.

Thomas Heywood was a prominent figure of the Elizabethan and Jacobean theater, best known for A Woman Killed With Kindness. Although only a few of his plays remain today, he is believed to have been involved in the writing of over two hundred plays. He was also a writer of poetry and prose, as well as two masques and pageants. He is considered one of the pioneers of English theater, along with William Shakespeare.