2. Selection Principle

"Morality Play" an adequate reader in class
In her review of Barry Unsworth´s "Morality Play" Julien Myerson says that this book "turns out to be that rare and precious thing: a perfect novel". This assumption is confirmed by the great acclaim the book received.

In more than one respect does Morality Play meet the requirements of a school reader. First and foremost the novel is a historical painting of the social, economic and cultural background in the England of the late 14th century, "a moment of change in history, a moment when a shaky, swaying bridge is built between past and present" (Hilary Mantel). However flimsy this bridge was, it was yet solid enough to bring the new ideas of the Renaissance to fruition.

It was the time when man began to free himself from the narrowness of the Middle Ages, a time when the seeds of a new era existed but were slow to germinate. This process was partly actuated by Occamism which not only fostered an interest in natural science but also kept the superstition alive which is omnipresent in Shakespeare´s dramas.

Secondly the novel tries to shed light on a dark moment in English literary history, when the drama of the Middle Ages broke away from its strict religious form and purpose and modern drama was born. Indeed, Unsworth´s novel marks the fictitious cusp in the history of the theatre when the old stock characters of the medieval drama, God, Adam, Eve, Good Counsel, etc., were substituted by real human beings entangled in real occurrences.

Thus the novel provides the teacher with a fictional prose reader that will prepare the road for the study of Shakespeare´s works at school. The play within the novel not only anticipates the play within Shakespeare´s "Hamlet", showing the "capacity of art (here theatre) to reach truth" (B. O´Donoghue), but also Hamlet´s advice to the players that mimesis and catharsis are genuine elements of histrionic art.


  Tenth Man Cover  

Barry Unsworth, Morality Play


1. Plot (synopsis)

2. Selection Principle

3. Author and Works


Finally "Morality Play" adds to its historical and literary background the suspense of a gripping, dark mystery thriller, which will surely contribute to maintain the students´ motivation and interest until the last page of the novel.

Moreover, there are further aspects giving proof that Unsworth´s novel is an adequate school reader, for the number of characters is limited and the whole novel is clearly constructed as it is divided into sixteen chapters. There´s no doubt that both these latter factors, too, will aid interpretation in class.


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