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Morality play Hardcover – 1995

4.2 out of 5 stars 38 customer reviews

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Hardcover, 1995
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Product Details

  • Hardcover
  • Publisher: Hamish Hamilton; 1st Edition edition (1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0241133416
  • ISBN-13: 978-0241133415
  • Product Dimensions: 14.2 x 2 x 22.5 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 340 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars 38 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #3,217,309 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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IT WAS A DEATH that began it all and another death that led us on. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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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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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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Format: Paperback
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 their wing as the players make their way across the wintry countryside. With the monk eagerly absorbing the tricks of the players trade as the group literally sings for their supper, the reader is transported through a 14th-century world of feudal loyalties, political intrigue and the desperation of peasants trying to survive against winter, famine, the Black plague and the injustices of ruling priests and knights. But there's danger ahead - the group arrives in a small village in the aftermath of a child's murder, and finds itself with a role to play as the evidence is hastily buried.
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.
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Format: Paperback
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 to subsist. Liberty, too, was scarce in a feudal system dominated by the often capricious and competing forces of King, Lord and Church. And there were intermingled the ubiquitous spectres of magic, superstition, banditry, and disease. With the ravages of the Black Death, life in the late Middle Ages was truly nasty, brutish and short.
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.
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