The morality play, of which Everyman is the best extant example, and the mystery play are the two principal kinds of medieval drama. The mystery play is a dramatic re-creation of a story from the Bible, its aim being the elucidation of the revelation therein. The morality play, by contrast, is an allegorical form, peopled by personified abstractions such as Beauty, Justice, and Fortitude and types such as Everyman, Priest, and King. Here the subject matter is admonitory, particularly concerning death. As Albert Baugh pointed out, it is difficult to discover precise sources for the subject matter or the dramatic method. There are, however, certain parallels with medieval sermons, which often bolstered moral exhortations with allegorical examples. Indeed, allegory is pervasive in medieval literature, as is, for that matter, concern for a happy death. It is not known, however, how these evolved into the particular form of the morality play.
Few morality plays have survived, and only Everyman remained sufficiently well regarded in later times to be dignified with performance. One reason for the unpopularity of the genre is the limitation of dramatic complication resulting from the static nature of the personifications. The characters are of necessity simple, and there is no possibility of change except perhaps in a central protagonist like Everyman. As a result, there can be little psychological insight and little diverse movement that...
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