Characteristics of a Morality Play

Updated April 17, 2017

Morality plays are a form of theatre that were especially popular during the 15th century in England, and were written to educate and lecture audiences on the plight of Christians and the dangers of sinning. Though the plots of famous morality plays such as "Everyman" and "The Castle of Perseverance" differ, a number of common characteristics strongly link plays of this genre together.

Nature of Hero

Morality plays don't usually feature an actual individual as a primary protagonist; instead, the play's hero is simply a representative of all people or of a certain demographic. Often, the hero is representative of all Christians or all of the citizens of a country. As a result, his name is non-specific; instead, he might be called Mankind or Everyman, for example. Little else is revealed about the hero; he is almost a blank slate, with nothing or barely anything of his background discussed.

Fall and Redemption

Typically, the play's hero is struggling for his very soul during the course of the action. He is torn between the forces of good and evil, as personified by the figures he meets during the play, who tend to have names signifying their role, such as Mercy. These two sides will attempt to tempt or rebuke the hero into doing what they want him to do. During the course of the play, the hero will fall from grace, but by the end of the action, he will have repented and have been forgiven by God.

Comic Elements

Morality plays tend not to be wholly serious, and often contain comic elements that might poke fun at or otherwise parody the events of the play, as a break for the audience from especially heavy moral discussion. These comic moments can be quite farcical in nature, and even bawdy or lewd on some occasions.


Morality plays are often taken to a range of locations and are designed to be performed on the move. This means that a characteristic of the genre is a general lack of props and little need for much in the way of stage-dressing; in fact, morality plays usually feature no stage at all and are performed amongst a crowd. In some cases, actors in a morality play may bring with them a few props, such as a spade or a bag of possessions, for added symbolism.


Because morality plays deal with pertinent social, religious and, obviously, moral issues, the characters in the play spend a lot of time debating these subjects and the rights and wrongs of certain actions. For example, the morality play "The Castle of Perseverance" contains a debate about the central character's sinfulness and whether he should go to Hell.

Cite this Article A tool to create a citation to reference this article Cite this Article

About the Author

Simon Fuller has been a freelance writer since 2008. His work has appeared in "Record Collector," "OPEN" and the online publication, brand-e. Fuller has a Bachelor of Arts in English literature from the University of Reading and a postgraduate diploma from the London School of Journalism.