AD's English Literature : A TO Z Literary Principles from History of English Literature: Note 57

A TO Z Literary Principles from History of English Literature: Note 57

 History of English Literature: A Set of 26 Objective Questions & Answers Mystery, Morality and Miracle Plays

  1. After the Normal Conquest (1066) in England the liturgical plays reappeared in developed from and were known as Mysteries and Miracles, ‘The Mystery Plays’, were performed by guilds, who called their crafts, ‘Plasterers’. 
  2. Miracle, Mystery, and Morality Plays, generic terms given to the English dramas of medieval times (from the 5th century to about the 15th century). These plays developed from the liturgy of the Roman Catholic church after 1210 when a papal edict forbade members of the clergy from appearing on a stage in public.These plays had considerable influence on the work of the great English dramatists of the 1500s and 1600s. 
  3. When the simple scenes from the Bible that had become part of the liturgy could no longer be performed by the priests early in the 13th century, the miracle plays came into existence. These plays had as subject matter the miracles performed by the saints or, more frequently, scenes from the Old and New Testaments. 
  4. Miracle plays, also known as Saint Plays, in crude form were presented at Easter and on other holy days.They gained a formalized structure in the late 13th or early 14th century and reached the height of their popularity in the 15th and 16th centuries. 
  5. Miracle plays dealing with the legends of the saints were less realistic and more religious in tone than those concerned with biblical episodes, and were eventually superseded by the latter. 
  6. Initially, people thoughts that mysteries and miracles are synonyms, but actually there is a technical different between the two. 
  7. The themes of mystery plays were the Biblical sense and characters. The theme which the miracle play dealt with was the lives of Saint and Christian martyrs. 
  8. Detached from the church drama acquired a squealer character .It was no more in the hand of clergymen. The trade guilds and civil authorities undertook the plays. The clergymen were no more the actor. 
  9. Instead of brief speeches, now the emphasis was laid on the elaboration & Biblical stories. The setting was also elaborate. Heaven, where God made his appliance was designed to be awe-inspiring, where as the Hell contained costumed devils and they were meant for entertainment. 
  10. The plays were generally given in cycles, or sequences of related scenes, each of which required only a short time to perform. Each scene was acted by members of one of the trade guilds of the town. The cycles presented the Christian history of God and humanity, from the creation of human beings and the world to final judgment. The important cycles, named after the towns in which they were notably performed, are the Chester (25 scenes), the Wakefield (30 scenes), the York (48 scenes), the Norwich, and the Coventry plays. 
  11. The cycles were generally performed outdoors on festival days and particularly on the feast of Corpus Christi. Each guild acted its assigned scene on its own wagon or float on wheels, which could be moved from one place to another for repeated performances. 
  12. To the scenes from the Bible the anonymous playwrights added interludes consisting of realistic comedy based on situations and ideas of a contemporary nature. The miracle play, therefore, was not only a biblical drama or scene, but also included scenes of realistic medieval comedy. 
  13. The best-known miracle play is the Second Shepherd's Play of the Wakefield Cycle. This story of the shepherds watching their flock in the fields on the night of Christ's birth is enlivened by the comic episode in which one of the sheep is stolen; the thief hides the sheep in a cradle in his home and, brought to bay, pretends the little animal is a baby girl. 
  14. The term mystery play, also called a Corpus Christi play or simply mystery, is sometimes used synonymously with miracle play. Some literary authorities make a distinction between the two, designating as mystery plays all types of early medieval drama that draw their subject matter from Gospel events and as miracle plays all those dealing with legends of the saints. 
  15. Sometimes known simply as a morality, the morality play was most popular in the 15th and early 16th centuries. It was designed to instruct audiences in the Christian way of life and the Christian attitude toward death. 
  16. The general theme of the morality play is the conflict between good and evil for the human soul; the play always ends with the saving of the soul. The characters of the morality play are not the saints or biblical personages of the miracle play, but personifications of such abstractions as flesh, gluttony, lechery, sloth, pride, envy, hope, charity, riches, and strength. 
  17. Some of the moralities were anonymous; others were by known authors. The best known of the former type is Everyman (late 15th century), which probably was derived from a Dutch source but was thoroughly Anglicized. In the play the protagonist Everyman learns that everything material he has gained in life deserts him as he journeys into the Valley of Death; in the end only the allegorical personage Good Deeds accompanies him. 
  18. Trade guilds prepared play-cycles .A play-cycle consisted of a series of plays, built around scenes right from the creation man to the day of last Judgment. Each of the scenes was played a separate pageant wagon .Thus the city so that the entire popular might see the complete cycle. Different guilds were allotted different scenes ,i.e. the ship makers chose the story of  ‘No ash’s Are’, the nail makers chose the story of ‘Christ’s’ Crucifixion and the rope pullers that of suffering of chariest . 
  19. Comic element were also introduced in the mystery play e.g. No ash’s wife was shown boxing her husband ,who wanted her to board the Are but the humor in mystery plays, were clownish. 
  20.  Morality Plays are the next stage in the evolution on English drama in 15th century, after mysteries and miracles. These were the dramatized allegories, of the sensitive Christian Life. It was the story of a search for salvation in which the crucial events are inclination to temptation and sins, and ‘confrontation death. It presented the medieval vision of the nature of god and man’s relation to god. 
  21. The moralities were not guilds plays. They were performed by roving companies of professional players for money.In morality plays, characters are not borrowed from the Biblical stories or from the lives of saints or Christian McIntyre’s. In these plays, the hero is every man or mankind. 
  22. The other characters are personification of vices and virtue. The only important thing in morality play is the message. So it is without the spectacular element .The morality plays, were essentially religious, ethical and didactic .These plays dealt primarily with the theme of damnation which was brought about by the working of the agents of evil; In them, there was a conflict between the seven moral writers, and seven deadly sins which try to lead man astray. 
  23. The most notable morality play is ‘Everyman’ .Instead of vices and virtues, it contains, the characters of God, death, good fellowship, good deed etc., who are concerned with the future of everyman’s soul. The morality plays presented human soul as battlefield between the force of good and evil. In it, abstract vices and virtues were presented as if they were real living people. 
  24. Morality signifies drama’s gradual movement towards secularization. They allowed the dramatists greater freedom to invent situations and characters. 
  25. The morality was an important step forward in the development of the comic element and the satirical comedy. 
  26. In the 16th century, the morality plays served as a attic for religious and political propagate. By the middle of the century; the popularity of morality banned , But the survival of the elements of the morality may seen in Marlboro’s ; Doctor Faustus which contains the procession of the seven deadly sins, and repeated appearance of good and evil angels, who struggle for Faustus soul.
Ref: 1. History of English Literature- Albert
       2. The Concise Cambridge History of English Literature


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