Writing Ludic Commonplaces for the Early Modern Stage: The Dramatic Adaptation of the Card-Playing Motif in Thomas Heywood’s A Woman Killed With Kindness

Louise Zheng Torine Fang


In the seventeenth century, card-playing scenes had been established as a long-standing topos of the visual arts. At the same time, parlour game scenes were developing into ‘a noteworthy dramatic convention’ on the English early modern stage and more particularly in domestic tragedies. Scene 8 of Thomas Heywood’s A Woman Killed with Kindness is one of the most compelling examples of this emerging dramatic topos. Before this passage, Frankford’s servant tells his master about his wife’s affair with his guest Wendoll. In the ensuing card game, insidious double meanings serve as a metaphorical illustration of
Anne’s affair. In the course of this paper I would like to show that this card-playing scene allows Heywood to argue for the moral superiority of theatre, which he would later theorize in his Apology for Actors (1612). I will see how Heywood uses the card game motif to display the visual potential of the stage in a way that could vie with the visual arts. However, the duplicity associated with the game also hints at the accusations levelled against card games at the time. This will lead me to argue that by depicting this game scene Heywood was in fact pitting theatre against other forms of leisure that were often criticized by enemies of the stage as being profoundly immoral.


games; Heywood; domestic tragedy; theatre; cards; play

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