University of Tasmania
whole_KisichPamelaPhyllisMonica1983.pdf (12.37 MB)

Changing attitudes to evil in some sixteenth century English drama

Download (12.37 MB)
posted on 2023-05-26, 20:40 authored by Kisich, PPM
My thesis contends that in sixteenth century English drama there were considerable changes in the dramatists' attitudes to evil. Beginning with the late medieval play Everyman, the thesis examines the early Tudor Moralities, the religious polemical dramas, plays of tyranny, revenge and ambition, and ends with the history plays at the end of the century. Evil is realized in Everyman and in the early Moralities, such as Nature, Hickscorner and Magnificence through personified vices which occupy the stage in costumes which suit their particular nature, so that both aurally and visually they can impress the dramatist's didactic message upon the audience. The same method of staging evil continues in the religious polemical plays of the Reformation, and is even found, to a lesser degree, in the tyrant and revenge plays like Apius and Virgina and Horestes. In the religious plays of the Reformation however, with the exception of Respublica, evil is seen as residing in Roman Catholic theology, rather than in the conduct of a mankind figure who has fallen prey to the temptations and deceptions of the Vices. The presentation of a former good as an evil has a divisive effect upon the mankind figure, and this in turn leads to a more complex situation in man's - confrontation with evil. Crises of conscience are enacted in plays such as The Conflict of Conscience, and, with much greater dramatic, and tragic appeal, in Doctor Faustus. In Marlowe's play it is the dramatist's poetic and dramatic superiority that distinguishes his work from the earlier Morality plays where man's destiny is to be decided. vi. In spite of the popular appeal of the Vice figure there is a very early attempt by an anonymous writer to realize evil in a human character. This occurs in Godly Queen Hester (1525-29), where the predominant concern is with virtuous rule. Both this play and Magnificence (1513-16) are thought to have been addressed to Henry VIII, so that the political overtones of both plays are not surprising. In spite of the religious zeal which dominates the Reformation plays, these earlier plays prefigure the transition from homiletic drama to plays which focus on secular concerns with particular emphasis on political affairs. In fact if religion is the primary concern of the medieval play, politics are certainly the popular fare of the Tudors, rivaled only by the generous portions of grand guignol entertainment which were so avidly consumed by Elizabethan audiences. But even though the predominant concerns are changed, and the settings of the dramas have become more colourful and varied, yet it is still man's passions that possess the capacity to bring about his ruin. As man's frequent predilection for evil is acknowledged, the villains of the stage grow in stature to be realized in figures like Hoffman, Lorenzo and Richard 111. Even so, this villainy is still often conveyed through the Morality device of the Vice figure, although this figure is gradually being replaced by two new popular types of stage villains, the Senecan and the Machiavellian. Hence the dramatists' attitudes towards the evils they present, and which are very much a part of man's conduct and his nature, are influenced by the religious, philosophical and political background of the times, and, importantly, by the dramatist's own abilities, and the demands of an audience whose tastes changed with the times.


Publication status

  • Unpublished

Rights statement

Copyright 1982 the Author - The University is continuing to endeavour to trace the copyright owner(s) and in the meantime this item has been reproduced here in good faith. We would be pleased to hear from the copyright owner(s). Thesis (M.A.) - University of Tasmania, 1983. Bibliography: l. 218-225

Repository Status

  • Open

Usage metrics

    Thesis collection


    No categories selected


    Ref. manager