morality play

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morality play

morality play, form of medieval drama that developed in the late 14th cent. and flourished through the 16th cent. The characters in the morality were personifications of good and evil usually involved in a struggle for a man's soul. The form was generally static, but it contributed significantly to the secularization of European drama. The first known moralities were called the Paternoster plays. The greatest English morality is Everyman. See miracle play.
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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Morality Play


an edifying form of Western European drama of the 15th and 16th centuries. The morality play originated in France (The Wise Man and the Foolish Man [Bien avise, mal avise], 1436). Among the most famous examples of this form are Everyman, an English play adapted from a late 15th-century Dutch play; the Swiss play Man, the Sinner (L’Homme pecheur); and the Italian play The Comedy of the Soul (La Commedia delVanima). The principal characters of a morality play are allegorical figures who personify the forces of good and evil and interact in the struggle for a human soul.

Although the morality plays, like the mystery plays, preached Christian morality, they did not have religious plots. They contained elements of antifeudal criticism, and in certain instances, motifs of social satire. Historically significant because they rein-forced the abstract principle of typification, morality plays also conveyed the outlines of various human passions by approximating the situations and conflicts of real life. Morality plays were usually presented on primitive stages featuring “booths” depicting various scenes, but in Paris, for example, they were also performed on the stage of the Hotel de Bourgogne.


Dzhivelegov, A., and G. Boiadzhiev. Istoriia zapadnoevropeiskogo teatra. Moscow, 1941.
Istoriia zapadnoevropeiskogo teatra, vol. 1. Editor in chief S. S. Mokul’-skii. Moscow, 1956.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

morality play

a type of drama written between the 14th and 16th centuries concerned with the conflict between personified virtues and vices
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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