Morality play

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The morality play is a genre of Medieval and early Tudor theatrical entertainment. In their own time, these plays were known as "interludes", a broader term given to dramas with or without a moral theme.[1] Morality plays are a type of allegory in which the protagonist is met by personifications of various moral attributes who try to prompt him to choose a godly life over one of evil. The plays were most popular in Europe during the 15th and 16th centuries. Having grown out of the religiously based mystery plays of the Middle Ages, they represented a shift towards a more secular base for European theatre.

Contents

History

The morality play developed during the Medieval period.[2] The morality plays attempted to educate via entertainment. It is thought that the Dominican and Franciscan orders of Christian monks developed the morality play in the 13th century by adding actors and theatrical elements to their sermons.[3] By doing so, the (mainly illiterate) masses could more easily learn the basics of Christianity through dramatic spoken word. This made complex topics such as original sin and atonement more easily understood. By personifying vices, virtues, the [4] and the Good Angel, stories of temptation were made accessible to those who were unable to read them themselves.[5]

The main theme of the morality play is this: Man begins in innocence, man falls into temptation, Man repents and is saved.[6] The central action is the struggle of Man against the seven deadly sins that are personified into real characters (prosopopoeia).[5] It is believed that the allegory of vices and virtues fighting over Man’s soul goes back to the 4th century Roman epic, Psychomachia.[7] This allegorical application of theatre to Christianity is intended to help the audience understand the greater concepts of sin and virtue.[8] The three greatest temptations that Man faces in morality plays are The World, The Flesh, and The Devil.[9] It is stressed that “Sin is inevitable” but that “repentance is always possible”.[10] Morality plays were not holiday-specific; they could be performed at any time of the year, as repentance occurs at any time of the year.[11]

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