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Morality play [Hardcover]

Barry Unsworth
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)

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Hardcover, July 9 1995 --  
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First Sentence
IT WAS A DEATH that began it all and another death that led us on. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Excerpt | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Profound Historical Mystery Aug. 21 2012
Format:Paperback
Morality Play by Barry Unsworth tells the story of a troupe of actors in 14th century England who become involved in the murder of a young boy. As they investigate the crime for the purposes of producing a play based on it, they become increasingly aware of the inconsistencies that pervade the case against the girl accused by the authorities. The actors soon find themselves well over their heads, embroiled in a mystery that involves far more than a peasant boy's death, a play whose actors are the most powerful men in all of England.

Unsworth's characters make up one of the strongest points of this novel. The narrator, Nicholas, is insightful and philosophical yet not to the degree that he becomes alienating to the reader. He is given a fully fleshed out and flawed personality so that he does not merely become the lens through which we view the novel's world but is instead a character on par with any of the others in the book. Martin Ball, the head of the group is perhaps the most fascinating of the actors. From the outset, Unsworth prepares us for this man's uniqueness and consequent dangerousness. In a time where creativity is not looked highly upon in the ranks of the peasantry, Martin is a dangerous person to be associated with. He is not content to continue performing the same tired out, formulaic Biblical plays and wants to experiment with an entirely new method of theatre. Casting aside convention, he attempts to depict contemporary life through art, a risky move even in today's culture and outrageous in the 14th century. Martin is very much a visionary, and I had the impression while reading this novel that had he been born a few hundred years later, he would have been a successful and famous playwright.
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3.0 out of 5 stars A good book club discussion book Jan. 12 2004
By MelB
Format:Paperback
Set among a troupe of players in Medieval England, "Morality Play" is a vigorously researced historical novel. There's a murder mystery, but that's secondary. Unsworth goes into great deal about the troupe's costumes, dramatic tools, recitation, and improvisation. One of the most interesting parts of the book is when he explains how hand gestures were used to communicate certain ideas to the audience and how they were used among players while improvising.
Others in my book group liked the book more than I did but we all agreed that the value lies in its description of the times and the power and evolution of theater. There's even a clever use of Deus Ex Machina in the plot. It proved to be a good discussion book but is a must read of theater people.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Evocative, compelling, focused Jan. 2 2004
Format:Paperback
I don't read historical novels; I grabbed this one because the bookstore was closing in five minutes and the first page seemed interesting.
This is an excellent book. There's no history to slog through--throughout, context is implied briefly as the narrative proceeds; there are no "info dumps"--and the story is in motion by the time you get to page two. It's a tight story, a shrewd observation of the functions and origins of art, and a convincing historical setting, in that order of prominence. My reason for emphasizing this order is that I'd like people like me, who don't read historical fiction, to try this one.
There's a lot to admire, but most of it can be reduced to this: clarity. Clarity of thought, clarity of plot, clarity of language. An admirable trick in itself is the way the language seems always "period" in flavor, but is never arcane or difficult.
I've been recommending this one.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Murder in the North Sept. 4 2003
Format:Paperback
"Morality Play" is a murder mystery set in the Middle Ages. Nicholas Barber, a wayward priest, joins a troupe of itinerant actors in northern England who are on their way to Durham.
The troupe stops in a remote town, where recently a child has been murdered. Will the murderer be discovered as the troupe becomes more interested in the case?
"Morality Play" is a short, entertaining book. I suppose that every novel of this type tends to be compared to "The Name of the Rose", despite the fact that it might be a little unfair to do that. It has a similar feel to Eco's work, but "Morality Play" is still good stuff - Unsworth is a skilled author, and manages to convey what might be an authentic feel for what life was like then. Although it's not as weighty as say "Stone Virgin", "Sacred Hunger" or "The Rage of the Vulture", it's still a well-controlled piece of writing.
G Rodgers
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4.0 out of 5 stars Atmspheric Medieval Mystery Feb. 14 2003
Format:Paperback
I picked up this book because I've always loved mysteries, this one promised to be a mystery and also qualify as decent lit., and because I loved the cover.
Unsworth is obviously a very talented writer, and the amount of research that must have gone into this novel in phenominal. Even more impressively, it doesn't feel like research when you read it. I learned all sorts of interesting details about Medieval life and culture in general and Medieval theatre in particular, and I got to learn all these things while being primarily engaged by a fascinating story, and a group of well-drawn characters. They were all good. Stephen, Tobias, Straw, Springer, our narrator, the marvelously real Nicholas, and particularly Martin, the leader of the Players, and Margaret, the marginalized member.
The mystery itself wasn't particularly difficult to discover; however, the tension of the book was steadily built, and the threat that the Players constantly felt seemed very real.
Unsworth also excels at description, and passages describing the bitter winter weather, and the arrival of the knight, are excellent.
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Most recent customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Roaring promise but weak conclusion.
Morality Play starts out with roaring promise as the curtain opens: a fugitive monk stumbles into a traveling actors troupe in the woods of medieval England and is taken under... Read more
Published on Dec 29 2002 by KateMc
4.0 out of 5 stars Marvelous tale churns the ages
I took a wild chance on this book, having never heard of the author, and loved it, cover to cover. Unsworth has a masterful pen and a magnificent imagination. Read more
Published on Sept. 16 2002 by Quickhappy
4.0 out of 5 stars A Masterful Tale of Fourteenth Century England
Life in fourteenth century England was a grim affair, particularly when viewed through modern eyes. There was little in the way of material comfort, most people struggling merely... Read more
Published on April 23 2002 by "botatoe"
3.0 out of 5 stars Good...
... Light fare. Seems more like a screen play for a film project.
Published on Feb. 20 2002 by Philip Z. Andrews
4.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful Morality Play
Barry Unsworth's book borders on brilliance. Unlike some period pieces purportedly focusing on medieval times and life, the timelessness of this tale draws us in and challenges us,... Read more
Published on Feb. 13 2002 by Sheldon S. Kohn
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful Historical Fiction
Morality Play is the best and most enjoyable book I've read in many months. Barry Unsworth's prose is perfect and he does a wonderful job of bringing 14th century England to life. Read more
Published on Jan. 17 2002
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing
Pillars of the Earth, Narcissus and Goldmand, and Unsworth's Morality Play are my favorite novels that take place during the medieval period. Read more
Published on Aug. 21 2001 by Noble M. Smith
4.0 out of 5 stars A Masterful Tale of Fourteenth Century England
Life in fourteenth century England was a grim affair, particularly when viewed through modern eyes. There was little in the way of material comfort, most people struggling merely... Read more
Published on Nov. 28 2000
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