In Thomas Heywood’s A Woman Killed with Kindness (1603), Anne Frankford responds to her husband’s punishment of her adultery by choosing to starve herself to death. Female selfstarvation was associated in the medieval period with spiritual transcendence and saintliness, in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries with domestic piety and wifely virtue, and by the end of the seventeenth century with medical pathology. This article recognizes the spiritual and material implications of Anne’s fasting; it also, however, associates her self-starvation with the monomastectomy attributed to Amazons who figure importantly in Heywood’s Gunaikeion and Exemplary Lives. Anne’s starvation, we argue, is a withdrawal of the power to nourish, and can be understood as a response to the social significance of food and eating as a form of control in the patriarchal economy of the early modern household. Further, the active agency and corporeality of Anne’s suffering replaces the passivity of her earlier representation in the play as a template for fallen female virtue.
Christopher Frey teaches English and History of Ideas at Alberta College of Art and Design and is currently completing at McGill University a doctoral dissertation entitled 'Body Marking in Spenser's Faerie Queene and Milton's Paradise Lost'. His dissertation work has been presented at national and international conferences in Spenser studies, Renaissance literature, art history, and cultural studies.
Leanore Lieblein is a former Chair of English at McGill University and a member of the McGill Shakespeare and Performance Research Team. She has published widely on various aspects of early modern and contemporary theatre. Her recent work has focused on Shakespeare in francophone Quebec, and she is currently working on the early modern performing body and the concept of character.
Frey, Christopher and Lieblein, Leanore.
'Historicizing the Self-Starved Female Body in A Woman Killed with Kindness'.
7.1 (2004): 45-66 (paper). Article 3.
Available at: http://digitalcommons.mcmaster.ca/earlytheatre/vol7/iss1/3