Mankind: Medieval Morality Plays

Mankind: Medieval Morality Plays Summary

Mercy is the first character to enter, and he makes a sermon praising God and warning against temptation. Mercy’s opening speech ends ominously with the promise that there will be a certain day of judgement where sinners will be sent to hell by God. Mischief enters and parodies what Mercy has just said, making fun of him and his Christian ideas.

At this point, a leaf is missing from the Mankind manuscript, so we know that there are about 70 lines of text that were written here that do not survive. It seems likely that Mischief would have challenged Mercy, saying that he can convert Mankind to sin. Newguise and Nowadays enter with Nought, “whipping him to make him dance”. Nought curses them both – and a dance follows. Mercy tries to send them away, but Nought suggests in response that Mercy should take his clothes off and have a dance himself. Mercy refuses to dance.

Newguise, Nowadays and Nought (the three vices) trip Mercy and make jokes at his expense before exiting. Mercy is glad to be rid of them, and makes a speech condemning their behaviour. Mankind enters, announcing that we (i.e. mankind) come from the “earth and of the clay”. He recommends the whole congregation to God’s mercy, and hopes that they are all destined to live within His bliss; that will happen, he says, if we will control our “carnal condition” and “voluntary desires”. Mercy tells Mankind to resist the temptation of the flesh, and speaks of the “battle betwix the soul and the body”.

Newguise, Nowadays and Nought re-enter “at a distance. They mimic Mercy and disturb his counselling”. Mercy warns Mankind that the three vices can cause much sorrow and eventually leaves him alone with them. Mankind then takes up his spade to continue working. The three vices sing a lewd Christmas song with the audience, and though Mankind tries to dismiss them, they continue to make rude jokes and mock Mankind’s small piece of land. Eventually, Mankind “strikes them with his spade” and chases them away.

Mischief and the three vices decide to bring in Titivillus to bring “the matter of Mankind” to an end. After a collection of money from the audience, Titivillus appears with his net. After the vices exit, he steals Mankind’s bag of grain and puts a board into his land so he cannot dig. Mankind throws down his spade upon realising that his “corn is lost” and tries to pray. Titivillus whispers into his ear, and Mankind interrupts his prayer to go to the toilet. Once he returns, Mankind is converted to blasphemy by Titivillus.

Mankind falls asleep, and while he is asleep, Titivillus advises Mankind to ask mercy from the three vices, tells him that Mercy has been hanged at the gallows, and gives him a whole host of irreligious advice. Mankind does indeed ask pity of the vices, and led by Mischief, they continue to give him bad advice. Mercy enters and sees that Mankind has indeed strayed from the path. He prays to God, and exits to look for Mankind.

The three vices and Mischief try to make Mankind commit suicide by hanging himself, but Mercy enters with a whip and upsets their plan, chasing the vices and Mischief away. Mankind, realising what has happened, begs mercy from Mercy and is forgiven. A long discussion between the two follows on the nature of God’s forgiveness. Mercy makes a final speech explaining what the other characters represent, and addressing the audience, reminding them to resist temptation and hoping that they too will be granted mercy and eternal life.