What is the genre and style of Everyman? Is the genre melodrama or tragedy?
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This early play defines the genre called “ the morality play” – the history of the manuscript is complicated, and the play may have survived as part of the oral tradition of staging moral lessons for the illiterate. Many Bible stories were also dramatized on the stage for the same purpose (see the pageant plays of the Middle Ages), but this morality play is different in that abstractions – Death, Friendship, Good Deeds, etc.-- are in a style that brings characters to life to demonstrate their lessons with the actors’ immediacy. When the actor playing the title character walks across the stage to the grave, and when all Everyman’s relatives and friends desert him, but his Good Deeds goes to the grave with him, the lesson is made perfectly clear. Later in theatre history when playscripts become part of literary history, the term “genre” makes more sense, since audiences wanted certain kinds of entertainment, and playwriting became an “enterprise” for profit, but the shadow of the Morality play can certainly be seen in the later works that seek to teach, such as the melodrama (which also had stereotype characters – the generic “bad guy, the “hero”, the “damsel in distress”, etc. and which spelled out its moral lessons in broad, unsubtle plot lines). The “tragedy”, which predates all, since it begins with early Greek drama – Oedipus, etc.—also dealt with lessons to live by, but in a more sophisticated way, and in a polytheistic society. The level of abstraction in morality plays like Everyman is almost childlike, but for the rustic Christian observer, they brought home a powerful message.
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