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Morality plays: what is?

Morality plays are a type of theatrical 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 century. Having grown out of the religiously based mystery plays of the Middle Ages, they represented a shift towards a more secular base for European theater.

Characteristics of morality plays

Most morality plays have a protagonist who represents either humanity as a whole (Everyman) or an entire social class (as in Magnificence). Antagonists and supporting characters are not individuals per se, but rather personifications of abstract virtues or vices, especially the Seven deadly sins.


Morality plays were typically written in the vernacular, so as to be more accessible to the common people who watched them. Most can be performed in under ninety minutes.

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