Short notes on Morality Play


Mortality play term is used by scholars of literary and dramatic history to refer the genre of a play texts from the 14th century to 16th century. The morality play has its roots in the miracle and mystery plays of the 11th century. Morality play has started alongside with the Tudor period in the later of middle ages.

Which means the later medieval period of English drama was marked by a form called morality play, this play was a shift from a religious play to a moral value by a character of a drama that follows interludes and allegorical with a satirical tone.

One of the popular playwrights and poet of mid- 18th century Robert Dodsley, categorized the play between morality and mystery, he categorized morality as allegorical and mystery as biblical play

What is morality play?

Morality means; (value or principal concerning the difference between right and wrong)

Hence morality play refers to a genre that personified the main protagonist of a play, which means a character that personify moral qualities such as virtues and vices along with angle and demon and in which moral lessons are taught are called morality play. It mainly focuses on the spiritual struggles of an individual soul.

What are the themes of Morality play?

Morality play has majorly based on themes like;

  • The conflict of vices and virtues
  • The summons of death
  • And the debate of the four daughters

What should be the tone of morality play?

Since most morality plays rose from religious drama, the tone and style of early plays used to be serious and introspective. Therefore, the morality play can be understood on more than one level, taking abstract traits, such as gluttony or pride, and assigning them a physical appearance.

What are the characteristics/feature of the morality play?

The morality play has some significant features like;

  • The protagonist should represent humanity in the play
  • The protagonist should have good and evil characters
  • A conflict that protagonist has to overcome that aligns with peace of moral guidance
  • Strong emphasis on morality and the difference between good over evil.

Popular morality plays

‘Everyman’ (1500-1530) by John Skot, is the most popular morality play because of its subject in which the character of the play represents abstractions and teaches moral value and also it spoke about man’s anxiety who are prepared to death. This play has translated from Dutch to English

The Pride of Life (1343- 1344) (writer anonymous) is the earliest surviving morality play which represents the allegorical story of Rex Vivus (king of Life) and his foolish attempt to challenge death to fight to the death, that he could not win.

The Castle of Perseverance (1425) (writer anonymous) it shows the progression of mankind from birth to death, illustrating his temptations and the process necessary for salvation.

Murder in Cathedral (1935) T.S. Eliot, this play resembles the old English morality play because it shows according to Samuel Becket Christian heroism conquering pride and attaining martyrdom.

Hildegard Von Bingen’s “Ord Virtutum” (Order of the Virtues) is the first ever morality play which is composed in (C. 1151) in Germany.

Apart from these plays, few play of the late period like; Impatient poverty (1547- 58)  by anonymouswriter, Mary Magadelene (1490)  by Lewis Wager, The Conflict of conscience (1581) by Nathaniel Woodes , The Nature of Four Elements (1517- 27) by John Rastell were largely dispense with the allegorical form, assuming that a protestant stance and deal with the issues of upbringing of the youth and the evils of social corruption.

Significantly, these morality plays betray an awareness of the new age of Renaissance, Its affluence and learning through the awareness particularizedthe Christian formulation of the essential fallibility of a man.

Therefore, Morality play had to reckon with the growth of English nationalism, its political and economic power. More importantly they have to come to the terms with the side of classical revival to the new humanist learning from Italy.

The authors survey about human life from birth to death through the conflicts occurring between one of the cardinal virtues and the “seven deadly sins”. Social reality of human life was beneath the concern of the early morality plays.

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