UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The dramatic treatment of false appearances in the major Tudor morality plays Wierum, Ann Robinson


The plan of this thesis is to examine the dramatic treatment of evil as deception or false appearance in a representative selection of fourteenth- and fifteenth-century morality plays. The structural core of these plays Is based on the Psychomachia, or conflict between good and evil in man’s soul, which forms the dominant theme of Medieval allegory. In the morality plays, this conflict Is most characteristically presented as a plot of deception In which Vice masquerading as Virtue tempts Mankind by sophistical argument into believing that evil is good. Theologically, this theatrical metaphor of disguise is rooted in the Medieval concept of Satan as the arch-deceiver and father of lies who can take many Protean shapes in his efforts to ensnare man's soul. Psychologically, the metaphor also embodies a simple but profound description of man's efforts to “rationalize” his own wrong-doings and to dress them in a more palatable name and guise. In this contest0 the plays may also be interpreted as allegories of self-delusion within the soul of man. This archetypal disguise of evil offers a supreme opportunity for a drama of Intrigue and deception based on the elemental human problem of recognizing evil in its true nature. The central dramatic problem of the morality plays is therefore twofold: to make the plot lively enough to hold the interest of the audience, and at the same time to make the nature of the deception clear to them even while the victim on stage remains deluded. Such clarification is vital to the homiletic intent of the plays, for the (spectators must net be deceived along with the hero but must be constantly reminded of the moral lesson. The dramatic methods arising from this problem may be summarized in three general categories to be examined in the course of this study. First, recognition is indirectly enforced by conventional devices reflecting the traditionally deceptive nature of evil: its theatrical mode of disguise and its "diabolically" clever mode of argument. These conventions, which will be discussed in the first two chapters, would be familiar to the Tudor and the Elizabethan audience through the widespread appearance of this theme in non-dramatic as well as dramatic literature of the time. Seconds the original theological allegory becomes overlaid with apparently secular warnings against social and political fraud and pretense. This surface move toward secularization may also reinforce the theological recognition of evil by placing it in a familiar everyday setting! and the morality plays share in a general Tudor preoccupation with fraud and hypocrisy which is rooted in Medieval conceptions of the nature of evil. Third, the authors continually exploit the ironic contrast between appearance and reality within the plays, allowing the informed audience to triumph over the deluded victim without forgetting the moral behind the deception. This two-dimensional relationship between actors and audience imparts a distinctive atmosphere to the morality plays, based on the use of dramatic irony for moral ends. It will be suggested that these dramatic methods may largely account for the continued vitality and popularity of the morality plays over a period of more than 150 years merging into the age of the major Elizabethan playwrights and providing them with important native examples of a drama based on intrigue. In the moralities, these methods give rise to a lively and flexible form of theatrical presentation, exploiting a dynamic relationship between the audience and the characters on stage, and possessing both artistic and psychological validity in reflecting the original allegory of evil disguised as good.

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