Mankind: Medieval Morality Plays
Spirituality and the trappings of the material world in medieval morality plays College
‘Some religious texts seem to find it relatively easy to disengage from the material world. Many more, however, derive their dynamism from the difficulty of doing so.’
‘Behold not the earth, but lift your eye up’,  Mercy sermonizes in the opening of Mankind, one play amongst a corpus of Medieval morality plays dealing with spiritual crises in figures representative of mankind. Mercy’s line expresses succinctly the morality play’s didactic purpose; encouraging an audience to see and think beyond the distractions of the material world and, in Richard Proudfoot’s words, ‘persist in virtue till death’, that is, be loyal to that which is immaterial such as God and heaven. If we consider the ‘material world’ to be all that is immediately tangible, including the body, it becomes easy to see how difficult any religious text could entirely escape engaging with this and focus solely on the immaterial concepts of virtue, hell, heaven and God. However, the Morality plays acknowledge this impossibility and, I would argue, dramatize the way in which the material world can act as a barrier to mankind’s salvation. The problem of disengagement thus becomes one not of the text’s but of the protagonist’s. The dynamism of these plays derives...
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