Mankind: Medieval Morality Plays


Like other moralities, Mankind dramatizes the struggle over humanity between the forces of good and evil. Within this larger thematic structure, scholars have been fascinated by the comedic and potentially subversive tone of the play. The play is interested in the humor of transgression – five out of seven speaking roles are comic villains, making Mankind the lightest and most colloquial of the Macro plays.[9] In his introduction to Furnivall's edition, Pollard writes that the "low tone" of the play is due to its nature as an economic venture, since the tone appealed to the largely uneducated common audiences for whom players performed.[10] Eccles notes that Mankind is the first English play to "mention gathering money from an audience".[11] Indeed, the play calls for a relatively significant amount of audience participation, as in the scene where New Guise, Nowadays and Naught cajole the audience into singing obscene carols with them. Ashley notes that in this way, "the audience itself is tricked into complicity with the devil’s machinations against Mankind."[5]

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