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MORALITY PLAYS. Morality play, also called morality, an allegorical drama popular in Europe especially during the 15th and 16th centuries, in which the.

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Presentation on theme: "MORALITY PLAYS. Morality play, also called morality, an allegorical drama popular in Europe especially during the 15th and 16th centuries, in which the."— Presentation transcript:


2 Morality play, also called morality, an allegorical drama popular in Europe especially during the 15th and 16th centuries, in which the characters personify moral qualities (such as charity or vice) or abstractions (as death or youth) and in which moral lessons are taught.

3 Together with the mystery play and the miracle play, the morality play is one of the three main types of vernacular drama produced during the Middle Ages. The action of the morality play centres on a hero, such as Mankind, whose inherent weaknesses are assaulted by such personified diabolic forces as the Seven Deadly Sins but who may choose redemption and enlist the aid of such figures as the Four Daughters of God (Mercy, Justice, Temperance, and Truth).

4 Morality plays were an intermediate step in the transition from liturgical to professional secular drama, and combine elements of each. They were performed by quasi-professional groups of actors who relied on public support; thus the plays were usually short, their serious themes tempered by elements of farce.

5 In the Dutch play Het esbatement den appelboom (“The Miraculous Apple Tree”), for example, a pious couple, Staunch Goodfellow and Steadfast Faith, are rewarded when God creates for them an everbearing apple tree with the property that whoever touches it without permission becomes stuck fast. This leads to predictable and humorous consequences.

6 The most famous of the French morality plays is Nicolas de la Chesnaye’s Condemnation des banquets (1507), which argues for moderation by showing the bad end that awaits a company of unrepentant revelers, including Gluttony and Watering Mouth. Among the oldest of morality plays surviving in English is The Castle of Perseverance (c. 1425), about the battle for the soul of Humanum Genus.

7 A plan for the staging of one performance has survived that depicts an outdoor theatre-in-the-round with the castle of the title at the centre. Of all morality plays, the one that is considered the greatest, and that is still performed, is Everyman.

8 The Beginning of English drama In the Middle Ages, there were no permanent theatres in England. Any drama was associated with the Christian church. Beginning with dramatisations of the key elements of Christian belief and events in the Christian year, such as the resurrection of Christ at Easter, the Medieval Church allowed short dramatic performances within services, or on the steps of churches. These helped to show to the people the mysteries of faith within the Latin liturgy.

9 Theatre on the Streets These short dramas then developed into processions, where the priests and civic dignitaries in their colourful vestments and robes added to the spectacle. Gradually, these processions included ‘pageants’ – a word we usually use today to mean a kind of open-air theatrical display, but which originally meant the cart on which scenes were performed. As the citizens stood in the streets, carts moved past carrying actors in still poses depicting biblical events such as Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, or Moses receiving the Ten Commandments, or the resurrection of Christ.

10 Drama in English Eventually some dialogue was introduced, and although the language of church services was Latin, actors on the pageants spoke in English, so that all the people listening could understand; in this way drama was used by the church. The plays which thus developed are known as Miracle or Mystery plays. The name arises from the French ‘myster’ or ‘metier’, meaning craft/profession, since it was the craft guilds who took over the production of the plays in the Middle Ages. This is the sense in which, in Measure for Measure, the executioner Abhorson describes his job as ‘a mystery’ (Act IV sc ii). Some mystery plays, originating from towns such as Chester, York and Coventry, still survive and are still regularly performed.

11 Morality plays Alongside the Mystery plays, in the later Middle Ages, dramas known as Morality plays developed. Instead of enacting events from the Bible, morality plays focused instead on the spiritual struggles of individual souls. The central characters, who have names such as Mankind or Everyman, act out the spiritual challenges faced by every human being. Vices and Virtues, such as deceit or kindness, or the Seven Deadly Sins, or the even more abstract Good and Evil, are personified and presented as debating or struggling against one another while the eternal destiny of the human protagonist hangs in the balance. The most famous of these plays is Everyman, which is still performed today

12 Influence on Shakespeare We see the influence of Morality plays in Shakespearean drama: In Act II, sc i of Measure for Measure, Escalus is referring to the kind of characters found in Morality Plays when he asks, ‘Which is the wiser here, Justice or Iniquity?’ In Act III sc iii of Hamlet there is a struggle between good and evil within the soul of Claudius. In Macbeth, Macbeth wrestles with himself, and against the urgings of his ‘fiend-like’ queen, before succumbing to evil.


14 A morality play is a type of theater performance that uses allegorical characters to teach the audience a moral lesson. This type of play originated in medieval Europe, first appearing in the 1400s, and typically was of a Christian nature. It could be considered an intermediate step between the Biblical mystery plays of the medieval period and the secular theater of the later Renaissance, such as the plays of William Shakespeare.

15 The morality play has remained a cultural influence to some degree, although it has waned in popularity. The basic premise of the morality play, in which the main character — who represents all people and to whom audiences can relate — makes a journey and is influenced by characters along the way, is still common in many works of theater and film.

16 Teaching Morals This type of performance is called a morality play because it is meant to teach the audience moral principles. Among the most common themes is that one should avoid what are known as the seven deadly sins: pride, lust, greed, envy, wrath, sloth and gluttony. Another is that even when a person gives in to temptation, repentance and redemption are possible. Plays that emphasize the difference between good and evil also might be called morality plays.

17 Naming of Characters One of the most significant characteristics of a morality play is the way that characters are named. Instead of normal names, they are called by the quality they represent. In Everyman, one of the most famous morality plays, some of the characters include Fellowship, Knowledge, Good-Deeds and Kindred. Eventually, all of these characters abandon the play's hero, Everyman, during his journey with Death, and only Good-Deeds stays with him. The moral of this play is therefore that only good deeds can help one get into Heaven, and that no other Earthly things are truly lasting.

18 Historical Progression The concept of the morality play allowed writers more creativity than was possible with its predecessor, the mystery play, which was very closely based on Biblical and traditional stories. This trend continued into later centuries with morality plays that sought to teach secular lessons, such as which form of government is best. Throughout the Renaissance, plays continued to be less instructive and allegorical and more representative of real life.

19 Other Works of Art The influence of morality plays can be seen in works of art other than theater performances. For example, John Bunyan's 1678 novel, The Pilgrim's Progress relies heavily on the typical themes of the morality play. The main character, Christian, encounters characters such as Faithful, Goodwill and Ignorance on his journey to the Celestial City of Zion.

20 Modern Examples Although true morality plays are no longer popular, except as examples of medieval theater, this genre continues to influence works of art such as movies, television shows and books. C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia book series and the movies based on the books are some examples. One difference in most modern works that might be considered similar to morality plays is that the characters are rarely given the express names of the qualities they represent, although they might be given similar names or names derived from certain qualities

21 It also is common for real-world events to be equated to morality plays by commentators and writers. As examples, the worldwide economic problems of the early 21st century and the success or failure of various political policies have been compared with morality plays by people who think that certain lessons can be learned from them.

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