Guide to Literary Terms

Start Your Free Trial

Download Guide to Literary Terms Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Morality Play

Morality play - an allegory in dramatic form. Popular from the Fourteenth to the Sixteenth Centuries, most morality plays used personified abstractions of vices and virtues. They did not necessarily use the Bible or strictly religious material and were more concerned with morality than spirit. This type of play essentially depicted a battle between the forces of good and evil in the human soul.

The word “morality” comes from the Latin moralis which was derived from mor or mos, meaning “custom.” The word play comes from the Old English plegan, meaning “to play.”

The morality play had its dramatic origins in the Mystery and Miracle plays of the late Middle Ages. Its allegorical origins were from sermon literature and other works of spiritual education.

Everyman (c. 1510) is the most common, but was preceded by Castle of Perseverance (c. 1420). The legacy of the morality play may be seen in Shakespeare’s Iago, from Othello, who resembles the Vice in morality plays.

see: allegory