Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Morality Play by Barry Unsworth

The BHPL First Friday Book Group will discuss Barry Unsworth's Morality Play this week. Booker Prize winner Unsworth turns to historical fiction in this murder mystery set in war and plague-ravaged 14th century England. A troupe of traveling players put on a play to make money to pay for the burial of a fellow player. Diverging from the dramatic tradition of the times which was the formulaic, didactic morality play, they present a play about a current murder in the town where they are staying.
In an interview, Unsworth discusses the theme of finding meaning, expressed in the book in this way:
"Players are like other men, they must use God’s meanings, they cannot make meanings of their own .... if we make our own meanings, God will oblige us to answer our own questions, He will leave us in the void without the comfort of His Word’ "
The players discuss and mistrust their decision to deviate from the norm to act out a play about a current, secular event, but they go ahead with the play anyway.
Unsworth says,
"It was especially relevant to that particular phase of theatrical history where there was a transition into a secular mode away from what is Bible-based and religious. ...traditional forms, forms that are sanctioned and accepted, forms that are done over and over again. From them you move away into areas where you make your own forms or your own meanings and you take the responsibility, in other words, you become modern man. You become recognisably a creature that inhabits our world. "
For the whole interview, A Warning Voice, with Gary Podmore, click here.
Morality plays are described in the Encyclopedia Britannica Online article, available from the BHPL website, Morality Play.
"Together with the mystery play and the miracle play, the morality play is one of the three main types of vernacular drama produced during the Middle Ages. The action of the morality play centres on a hero, such as Mankind, whose inherent weaknesses are assaulted by such personified diabolic forces as the Seven Deadly Sins but who may choose redemption and enlist the aid of such figures as the Four Daughters of God (Mercy, Justice, Temperance, and Truth)."
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