A Woman Killed with Kindness Characters

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First produced: 1603

First published: 1607

Type of work: Drama

Type of plot: Tragedy

Time of work: Early seventeenth century

Locale: Yorkshire, England

Characters DiscussedJohn Frankford

John Woman Killed with Kindness, AFrankford, a well-to-do gentleman. Generous and just to his whole household, he wins undying loyalty from his servants. He finds his trust betrayed by his beloved wife and his friend Wendoll, whom he had taken into his home. Although he is reluctant to accept his servant Nick’s revelation of their guilt, he forces himself to try to learn the truth. Too merciful to take the bloody revenge demanded by convention from an injured spouse, he satisfies himself by banishing his wife to his manor in the country, where she dies heartbroken.

Anne Frankford

Anne Frankford, his wife. She seems at the time of her marriage the epitome of gracious, chaste womanhood, but she cannot resist the persistent advances of Wendoll, whom her husband leaves alone with her. After the discovery of her infidelity, she is so overcome by her sense of guilt and by her husband’s generosity that she starves herself and dies, forgiven on her deathbed, in Frankford’s arms.


Wendoll, her lover, Frankford’s protégé. Although his conscience rebels at his base betrayal of Frankford’s hospitality, he gives in to passion and persuades Anne to return his love, shamelessly baiting her husband with double entendres as they play cards. Once discovered, he repents and sees that he must wander, like Cain, to escape the report of his ingratitude.

Charles Mountford

Charles Mountford, an impulsive country squire. In a heated quarrel over his hawk’s prowess, he kills two of the servants of his friend Sir Francis Acton and makes a bitter enemy of their master. Freed from prison at the cost of his entire fortune, he lives in the country with his sister, contented with their simple life, until he is again arrested, this time at the request of a creditor whom he trusted. Released by Acton’s intercession, he feels obligated to repay his debt to his enemy and offers him his only remaining treasure, his sister, a gesture understandable only in terms of his rigid code of honor.


Susan, his loyal sister, who shares his misfortunes. She is appalled at first by her brother’s proposal that she give herself to Sir Francis, but she finally accepts his view of the matter enough to explain his offer to their enemy, swearing at the same time that she will kill herself rather than stain her honor. Relieved of this grim choice by Sir Francis, she accepts his proposal of marriage.

Sir Francis Acton

Sir Francis Acton, Anne Frankford’s brother. The slaying of his servants makes him Charles Mountford’s implacable enemy until he sees Susan and falls in love with her. Unable to purchase her favors, he resolves to win them by his kindness in freeing her brother. He is so overcome by Charles’s offer that he refuses to dishonor their house and asks for the young woman as his bride.


Malby and


Cranwell, friends of Sir Francis.


Shafton, a greedy opportunist who offers Charles a large loan under the cover of friendship, then has him imprisoned for debt.


Nicholas, Frankford’s watchful manservant. He distrusts Wendoll from the moment of his entrance into the house and later reveals his villainy to his master.




Cicely, and


Spigot, good-humored members of Frankford’s household who are devoted to their master and well aware of what goes on in his home.

Jack Slime

Jack Slime and

Roger Brickbat

Roger Brickbat, country men who dance to celebrate Frankford’s marriage.

Old Mountford

Old Mountford,




Roger, and


Tidy, hard-hearted relatives and former friends of Charles. They refuse Susan’s plea for money to free her brother, who had been their benefactor in better times.

BibliographyAdams, 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.
Categories: Characters