History of English literature
Sub: development of English drama from Middle time to Elizabethan time
Course code: ENGL-104
Lecturer of English department
Stamford university Bangladesh
ID. No. ENG-04406267
Bachelor of art in English (honors)
Stamford university Bangladesh
Date of submission 10, march, 2011.
Development of English drama from Middle time to Elizabethan time.
The allegorical morality play, a type of nonliturgical vernacular religious drama, was one
of the forerunners to the development of English drama.
English drama developed out of early non liturgical vernacular religious dramas, which
had themselves probably developed out of the liturgical drama of the medieval church.
Though secularized, these early dramatic forms" "the mystery, miracle, and morality
plays" "still focused on the religious and moral themes that dominated the Christian
imagination during the Middle Ages. The mystery plays dramatized sacred history,
representing events from Creation to Judgment Day. Miracle plays presented the lives
and miracles of the saints, or episodes of divine intervention in human affairs, often
through the agency of the Virgin Mary.
Unlike the perspective of the mystery and miracle plays, that of the morality play was
individual rather than collective. The morality play (usually called simply a "morality")
presented religious and ethical concerns from the point of view of the individual
Christian, whose main concern was to effect the salvation of his soul.
The mystery and miracle plays developed first, around 1100 a.d. Late in the fourteenth
century, morality plays on such subjects as the seven deadly sins became popular in
France, England and the Netherlands. In the first decades of the fifteenth century, secular
allegorical plays concerning the conflict between good and evil in the individual soul
began to be performed in France by law clerks and students, and this type of play soon
became popular all over Europe, including England.
A morality play is essentially an allegory in dramatic form. It shares the key features of
allegorical prose and verse narratives: it is intended to be understood on two or more
levels, its main purpose is didactic, and the characters are personified abstractions with
aptronyms ("label names"). The nondramatic didactic and allegorical precursors to the
morality play are to be found in medieval sermon literature, homilies, exempla, fables,
parables, and other works of moral or spiritual edification, as well as in the popular
romances of medieval Europe.
Another dramatic form that has much in common with the morality play is the
interlude, particularly that subset of interludes called "moral interludes." There is no clear
dividing line between the moral interlude and the morality play, and in fact many works
are classified under both headings: "The Pride of Life (c. 1300), "The Castell of
Perseverance" (c. 1400), "Wisdom" (c. 1460), "Mankind" (c. 1465), "Hyckescorner"
(1512), "Lusty Juventus" (1550), and "Like Will to Like" (1568). Moral interludes were
usually about 1000 lines long and written in rough verse""often mere doggerel. Interludes
generally, including moral interludes, were often written to be performed as
entertainments at court, in the houses of nobility, at University colleges, and at the Inns of
Typically, the morality play is a psychomachia, an externalized dramatization of a
psychological and spiritual conflict: the battle between the forces of good and evil in the
human soul. This interior struggle involves the Christian's attempt to achieve salvation,
despite the obstacles and temptations that he encounters as he travels through life, toward
Originally, because of their roots in religious drama and their didactic purpose, moralities
were serious in tone and style, but the increasing secularization of the plays led to the
incorporation of elements derived from popular farce, a process encouraged by the
presentation of the Devil and his servant the Vice as boisterous mischief-makers. These
characters soon became figures of amusement rather than of moral edification. Even
more disturbing for the Church was the way that actors would improvise humorous""and
often ribald""scenes to increase the crowd's hilarity. By about 1500 the Church no longer
officially approved of the mystery and miracle plays or the morality plays, and in
England they were suppressed after the Reformation in the sixteenth century, though they
continued to be performed well into the seventeenth century in the Catholic countries of
In England the moralities dramatized the progress of the Christian's life from innocence
to sin, and from sin to repentance and salvation. Among the most widely known of the
fifteenth-century moralities are "The Castell of Perseverance," which features a battle
between Virtues and Vices; "Mankind," which incorporates topical farce; and perhaps the
most famous of all the English morality plays, "Everyman" (c. 1495), which concerns the
Christian's experience of mortality and Judgment.
The main characters in "Everyman" are God, a Messenger, Death, Everyman, Fellowship,
Kindred, Cousin, Goods, Knowledge, Beauty, Strength, and Good Deeds. Everyman is
immersed in worldly pleasures when Death summons unexpectedly him. He soon finds
that none of his supposedly loyal companions (Fellowship, Kindred, Cousin) will go with
him. His treasured Goods also desert him, and at the grave the qualities of the flesh
(Beauty, Strength) also fade away. Only Good Deeds stays with him to help him get into
Paradise, which is accomplished with the help and guidance of Knowledge, by means of
Confession and Priesthood.
In other moralities, various manifestations of the forces of Evil (the Seven Deadly Sins,
the World, the Flesh, the Devil, Vice) are arrayed against the Christian, who turns for
help to the forces of Good (God, His angels, Virtue). The quality of writing in the
moralities is uneven, and in many cases the author is unknown. Characterization is also
crude and naÃ¯ve, and there is little attempt to portray psychological depth.
But over time, the moralities began to show signs of increasingly sophisticated analysis
of character. This increasing subtlety and depth of characterization point directly to the
development of mainstream Elizabethan and Jacobean drama. Thomas Sackville and
Thomas Norton's play "Gorboduc," the first of the Elizabethan tragedies, is a kind of
political morality play on the proper government of a kingdom. And at least one of
drama's most memorable characters, Shakespeare's Falstaff, is a direct descendant of the
medieval Vice. Falstaff functions as a Vice not only in his character, but also in the way
he tempts Prince Hal in "Henry IV" (Parts I and II) to neglect his duties as heir apparent
to the English throne in order to pursue a life of drunkenness, wantonness, and crime.
When Hal becomes king, he must repudiate Falstaff altogether, just as the Christian must
repudiate Vice in the medieval morality play.
By the sixteenth century, morality plays were addressing not only religious themes, but
also social and political analysis and satire. For example, "Magnificence: (1516) satirizes
extravagance, and "Satyre of the Three Estaitis" (1540) is a political morality play.
From about the mid-sixteenth century, under increasing pressure from religious
authorities, the popularity of the moralities began to wane, but they continued to be a
major influence on mainstream drama. Besides Sackville and Norton's "Gorboduc,"
Nathaniel Wood's "The Conflict of Conscience" (1568) and Christopher Marlowe's "The
Tragical History Of Dr. Faustus" (1588) also owe much to the morality play, and even as
late as 1625, Ben Jonson's "The Staple of News" showed the influence of the moralities,
especially in Lady Pecunia, an allegorical character representing Riches. The allegorical
use of aptronyms for characters in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century comedies, and
also in novels and short stories all through he nineteenth and twentieth centuries, suggests
the ongoing significance of the tradition established by the morality play.