Guide to Literary Terms

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What is a morality play?

A morality play is a didactic, allegorical drama in which characters stand in for concepts or moral principles.

Morality Play

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Last Updated May 26, 2023.

A morality play, or morality, is an allegorical play in which the main characters personify abstract concepts (such as beauty, strength, or humanity) or moral values (like generosity, patience, or the seven deadly sins). As suggested by the name, morality plays communicate a moral lesson to the audience. 

 

Morality derives from the Latin word moralis, from mos (“custom, law, way”). Play derives from the Old English word plega (“to play”). 

 

Morality plays were popular in Europe in the 15th and 16th centuries. 

 

One notable morality play, first performed in the early 16th century, is The Summoning of Everyman, which explores what human beings must do to receive Christian salvation.

 

see: dramapersonificationallegory

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