Mankind: Medieval Morality Plays

Mankind play

How does the character Mankind deviate from what is expected of a central character in  a morality play?

Asked by
Last updated by jill d #170087
Answers 1
Add Yours


An allegorical figure who represents every man - all mankind. He is a simple man, a laborer focused on his small piece of land and his corn, and, though he initially fights off vice using his spade, he is eventually converted to blasphemy and sin by Titivillus before finally being redeemed by Mercy at the end of the play.

This first section of the play foregrounds the battle between good and evil (very often dramatized thus in morality plays) before the audience is even introduced to Mankind. We meet Mercy, we meet the three vices and Mischief, and then we see them argue with each other. It seems very likely that, at the moment in the play where a leaf is missing from the manuscript, a challenge was agreed upon between Mischief and Mercy: Mischief arguing that he could win Mankind to sin and Mercy proclaiming that Mankind’s faith and good behavior will hold firm. Mankind, to look at it one way, is not the central character of the play – he is merely the battleground on which the battle between good and evil will be fought out, and which will win out in the end provides the dramatic tension of the piece.

Tonally, though, Mankind is by no means overtly serious. TheMankind playwright had a real gift for juxtaposing the serious and moralistic with the bawdy and crude, and the end of Mercy’s first speech is an excellent example: curtailed by some very bawdy, riotous humor which directly parodies what he has just said. The Christian morals of the play quickly become bawdy, crowd-pleasing humor.