The Modern Morality Play

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The Morality play can be defined as an “allegorical play popular especially in the 15th and 16th centuries in which the characters personify abstract qualities or concepts which involve a direct conflict between right and wrong or good and evil and from which a moral lesson may be draw (Webster).” Today, the morality play Everyman, is occasionally performed or read at colleges and church organizations. These productions are usually academic in nature or focused on religious ideology. Ron Tanner author of Humor in Everyman and the Middle English Morality Play argues that this play has value beyond such narrow focus. A closer evaluation of the plot and characters would support his assertion. Therefore, Tanner sets out to prove the critics wrong and unveil the humor in the morality play Everyman by comparing it with two other morality plays, Mankind and Youth.

Morality plays have a reputation of being dreary, grim and didactic, but Tanner knows this not to be true. He begins his argument by asserting his disgust towards the critics and their opinions about the morality play Everyman. He tells us that today’s critics underestimate the use of humor in morality plays and have given them a bad name. He offers three examples of humor in just the beginning of the play; Everyman’s attempt to negotiate with death; Everyman’s conversations with Fellowship, then with Kindred and Cousin.

“The playwrights main instrument of humor in these plays is irony, particularly dramatic irony” Tanner explains. Tanner claims that this sets a collusion between the audience and the unaware characters and this draws the audience in. It also creates sympathy from the audience towards the characters. Tanner claims that the introduction to the play and E...

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...ved the play to be humorous if perhaps you lived in medieval times. Tanner’s argument described the humor the medieval audience would have recognized but did not support his assertion that the play can be anything more than educational and religious today. Even after his emphasis on certain areas the play he lacks support in relating the humor to today‘s society. Several times he mentions how the medieval audience would perceive the characters but today’s audience would not understand or relate in the same way. The elements that drew the medieval audience in and made the play humorous to them can not be sensed by a contemporary audience because it does not relate to today’s society. Although Everyman proved very popular with medieval readers I am not convinced that the play is anything more than religious and educational (or) can be found humorous in today’s society.
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