Thomas Heywood

Plays by Thomas Heywood

A Woman Killed With Kindness

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

A woman struggles to survive, and then struggles to die, in Heywood’s startling domestic tragedy about the possession and punishment of women, probably first published in 1607.

The marriage of John Frankford, a middling country gentleman, and his wife Anne is comfortable, if uneventful, until he gives his friend Wendoll the free use of his table and purse. Wendoll takes even more than was offered, and confesses his desperate love to Anne, who takes pity on him, and they commit adultery. When they are discovered John banishes his wife to a distant manor, forbidding her to see their two children, and it is in the comfort of her exile that she will starve herself to death. In the subplot, a woman devoted to her brother is offered as payment for his debts.

Usually considered to be a domestic tragedy, A Woman Killed with Kindness is complex in its didacticism, as Heywood explores the boundaries of marital punishment, and the moral weight of mercy.

Heywood, Thomas (c. 1570-1641) English dramatist and actor, who claimed to have been involved in the writing of at least 220 plays, about 35 of which have survived. William Winstanley in his Lives of the Most Famous English Poets offers one possible explanation for the loss of so many of his plays: "'Tis said, that he not only acted himself almost every day, but also wrote each day a sheet: and that he might loose no time, many of his Plays were composed in the Tavern, on the back-side of Tavern Bills, which may be the occasion that so many of them be lost."

Although little is known of Heywood's early life, it is assumed that he must have been in London in the mid 1590s. In 1596 he appears to have begun writing plays for Philip Henslowe's company, the Admiral's Men. Heywood is also known to have written for, and performed with, Queen Anne's Men.

Heywood's best-known surviving work is the domestic tragedy, A Woman Killed with Kindness (1603). His diverse output includes a series of plays based on classical mythology called The Golden Age, The Silver Age, The Brazen Age, and The Iron Age, which were staged between 1611 and 1613. Other notable plays include If You Know Not Me, You Know Nobody (1605), The Rape of Lucrece (1607), and the two parts of The Fair Maid of the West (c. 1611, c. 1631), which chronicles the life of Elizabeth I. His romantic drama The Four Prentices of London (1600) was satirized by Francis Beaumont in The Knight of the Burning Pestle (1607).

In 1631 Heywood appears to have taken over from Thomas Dekker (c. 1570-1632) as the writer of the Lord Mayor's Shows, a position he retained until 1639. Among Heywood's other writings is An Apology for Actors (1612).