A main theme in early modern domestic tragedy was not marital discord as such but violent - usually unreasonably violent - behaviour on the husband's part. At a time when husbands were not only allowed but obliged to rule their families, including their wives, the definition of 'lawful and reasonable' measures of punishment were opened to debate. The marriage of John Frankford, a middling country gentleman, and his wife Anne is comfortable if uneventful, until Wendoll, an acquaintance of her husband's, confesses his passionate love to her. Anne yields to him; they are discovered. Instead of killing the two adulterers on the spot - a vengeance that society would condone - Frankford banishes his wife from the house and their two children. Racked by guilt and remorse, Anne starves herself to death; but Heywood allows a scene of deathbed reconciliation to wife and husband.
Brian Scobie is a Lecturer in English at the University of Leeds
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