The dramatic activity In England took its rise, as did the drama of the Greeks, from religion; It was In origin distinctly a creation of the church. The church was everything for the Middle Ages:- rest for the weary, solace for the afflicted, bread for the hungry and succor for the helpless-The church was indeed the schools the meeting . Place, the centre of art and above all of amusement and entertainment. It was ready and eager to provide for the people delight as well as spiritual uplifting .
As early as 1110 A. D. Evolved out of the church and the religious Instinct of man, a kind of drama known as miracle or mystery play. Later,we find the moralities. A mystery play presented an event or series of events taken from the Bible, while a miracle play traumatized an event or legend taken from the life of a saint or martyr. In the beginning ,the production of these plays was under the direct control of the clergy. The purpose of these plays . Was mainly didactic.
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The plays gradually grew in popularity, and as on great occasions larger and larger crowds thronged about the hurrah, the stage had to be taken out from the Interior of the building to the porch. Later, the place of performance shifted from the church to the churchyard and then to the street or market-place or convenient open spaces about the town. The church lost its exclusive control over the production and performance of the plays. Laymen began to take part in the performance and ultimately superseded the clerical actors.
Latin also gave way to vernacular. In the fourteenth century, the performance of these plays was entrusted to the trade guilds. Each craft enacted plays according to its own trade. Thus the shipwright presented ‘ Nosh’s Ark’, and the fishermen the Flood. Gradually these plays were united In a great cycle begging with the creation and ending with the Final Judgment. Each town had a complete cycle of religious plays of its own, and of thesaurus complete cycles-those of Chester, York, Wakefield, and Coventry-have survived the onslaught of time.
These plays were performed on the wheeled theatres (or pageants) which moved round the town and presented plays at fixed places of the town. The performance of these plays began with the feast of Corpus Christi and so they are sometimes called Corpus Christi plays. Len these plays Ill the germs of regular comedy. A later stage In the evolution of the drama Is marked by the moralities. A morality is an allegory cast in the form of a play. It originated in the desire to bring into clear relief the great lesson of life-the struggle between good and evil to which everyman is subjected.
It is, like the mystery and miracle plays, didactic, but its characters, instead of being taken from the Bible or the sends of saints, are personifications of such abstractions as Mainland,Mercy, Justice, Peace, the Seven Deadly Sins, the Good and Bad Angels, Old Age and Death, Everyman, Freewill etc-The Devil is given a very prominent role. From the middle of the fifteenth century another lively personage called the Vice was introduced. The Vice is the humorous incarnation of evil and is the recognized funkier of the piece.
A morality play generally ends in the triumph of virtue, the devil leaping into hell- mouth with Vice on his back. It registered a great freedom in the handling of both plot and characters,as It was not bound to follow the prescribed lines of any given called ‘Everyman’ Rumanians Genus’ or Anima or Mankind, and the dramatic action consists in his corruption by the personified vices and in his final salvation by personified virtues. Thebes known of the moralities is Everyman, the subject of which is the summoning of every man by Death.
The moral lesson it seeks to inculcate is that nothing but an honest life and the comforts of religion can take way the terror- of death. “In its dramatic unity it suggests the pure Greek drama; there is no change of time or scene; and the stage is never empty from the beginning to end of the performance. ” (Long). The moralities have great possibilities for tragedy. In them we see the beginning of that tragic soul-struggle which later became so marked a characteristic of the Shakespearean tragedy. They evince the sense of construction and unity of form which set them apart from the chaotic heterogeneity of miracle and mystery plays.