A House Divided Against Itself: Unstable Nobility in A Woman Killed With Kindness
UVA Law Faculty Affiliations
PETER LASLETT said most social definition occurs ‘at the frontiers, so to speak, and in traditional society this meant at the crucial divide between the minority which ruled and the mass which did not rule.’ Much of the impetus for Renaissance drama came from skirmishes at that frontier, and much has been written both about the role of class conflict in the drama and about the theatre itself as a locus of class intermingling.
Class tension, however, is not the only socioeconomic source of drama. The internal norms of a social class can themselves give rise to conflict. This is the case with Thomas Heywood’s A Woman Killed with Kindness. The play, to the extent that it is not ignored, is largely discussed in terms of marriage and gender. It has also been described as ‘middle-class’. I would submit, however, that such dramatic impetus and internal coherence as the play possesses stem from its depiction of noble values in conflict. In its exploration of the ideals of an English gentleman, A Woman Killed with Kindness depicts an internally corrupt and contradictory world, bound to collapse on itself.