Historicizing the Self-Starved Female Body in A Woman Killed with Kindness
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.
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