Morality play Hardcover – 1995
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Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
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.
Up to this point the story is a rollicking good read, with interesting group dynamics as each troupe-member adopts their public and private roles, and a growing sense of dread as the players get deeper into dangerous waters. Unsworth does a great job of making medieval England come alive - you smell the stench of corpses, you feel the itch of the horsehair costume, you fear the unpredictable rage of the peasantry. But just when you're expecting a strong and satisfying conclusion, the story collapses. It simply peters out. A late-arriving character arrives at the end to explain it all and promise that everything will be OK. It's like watching a murder mystery on stage where suddenly the curtain comes down and somebody you've never seen arrives on stage to tell the audience "the bad guy was arrested, the crime was solved, and you can go home now, and I have no idea what happened to the players left in the castle." Despite Unsworth's masterful depiction of time and place, Morality Play suffers from a disappointing ending for a story with so much promise.
Against this background, Barry Unsworth's "Morality Play" weaves a masterful and compelling tale of Nicholas Barber, a twenty-three year old priest, "a poor scholar, open-breeched to the winds of heaven as people say, with nothing but Latin to recommend [him]." Nicholas, after commiting adultery and losing his cloak while fleeing the wrathful husband, takes up with an itinerant band of players. He thus becomes both a fugitive, by leaving his diocese without permission of his Bishop, and a sinner by entering upon an occupation forbidden by the Church.
The players soon find themselves in a town where Thomas Wells, a twelve year old boy, has been murdered and a young woman has been hastily tried, convicted and sentenced to hang for the crime. It is then that their leader, Martin, suggests that the troupe depart from the accepted practice of the day, the enactment of plays based upon Biblical stories with well-known themes. Martin proposes, instead, that they perform a "Morality Play" based upon the murder of Thomas Wells.Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
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. Read morePublished on Jan. 12 2004 by MelB
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. Read more
"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... Read morePublished on Sept. 4 2003 by MR G. Rodgers
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 morePublished on Sept. 16 2002 by Quickhappy
... Light fare. Seems more like a screen play for a film project.Published on Feb. 20 2002 by Philip Z. Andrews
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 morePublished on Feb. 13 2002 by Sheldon S. Kohn
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 morePublished on Jan. 17 2002
Pillars of the Earth, Narcissus and Goldmand, and Unsworth's Morality Play are my favorite novels that take place during the medieval period. Read morePublished on Aug. 20 2001 by N. M. Smith