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❮Reading❯ ➺ Morality Play Author Barry Unsworth –

The Time Is The Fourteenth Century The Place Is A Small Town In Rural England, And The Setting A Snow Laden Winter A Small Troupe Of Actors Accompanied By Nicholas Barber, A Young Renegade Priest, Prepare To Play The Drama Of Their Lives Breaking The Longstanding Tradition Of Only Performing Religious Plays, The Groups Leader, Martin, Wants Them To Enact The Murder That Is Foremost In The Townspeoples Minds A Young Boy Has Been Found Dead, And A Mute And Deaf Girl Has Been Arrested And Stands To Be Hanged For The Murder As Members Of The Troupe Delve Deeper Into The Circumstances Of The Murder, They Find Themselves Entering A Political And Class Feud That May Undo Them Intriguing And Suspenseful, Morality Play Is An Exquisite Work That Captivates By Its Power, While Opening Up The Distant Past As New To The Reader

10 thoughts on “Morality Play

  1. says:

    It was a death that began it all and another death that led us on.A grand historical book, shortlisted for the Man Booker prize, about a band of poor travelers, performing plays in the times of the Middle Ages, stumbling into a crime scene that will place them in unforeseen circumstances Enjoyed it immensely, last two days I breathlessly read through it.Great book indeed Beautiful read The top of historical reads Recommended.

  2. says:

    The Black Death gripped Europe in the years 1348 1350, wiping out nearly half the population in cities and frequently every man, woman and child in villages and towns People could be healthy in the morning, feverish at noon, covered in boils, spitting blood and writhing in agony in the evening and meet their death that very night.Not even close to understanding the true biological cause of this blackest of plagues and perceiving the ugly, stinking buboes popping up on family and neighbors as the wrath of God, inhabitants of Europe lived in a collective psychological paralysis.The aftermath of the great pestilence left the surviving population in chaos fields lay waste since there were fewer peasants to farm, murdering brigands terrorized the countryside and the traditional protectors of the oppressed, nobles, knights, monks and priests, frequently became the oppressors Not surprisingly, disease and the fear of disease did not go away rather, fears piled up fear of being the victim of such things as famine, torture, rape or hacked to death by bandits or soldiers All very real, ongoing possibilities In a word, not a happy, feel good time to be alive.Thus, taking place a dozen years after the Black Death hit England, we have the backdrop of Barry Unsworth s gripping novel of a band of traveling players, including a renegade priest turned player the story s narrator entering a town and, half starved, resorting to playing out the town s current event the murder of a twelve year old boy by the name of Thomas Wells Unsworth s tale has the intrigue, suspense and pace of a hard boiled detective novel, a storyline simply too good to give away any of the details Since Mr Unsworth did his homework on the historical facts and fine points of the fourteenth century, I will focus on several colorful scenes the author includes in his portrayal of these turbulent times.Decked out in their costumes and ready to take the stage, the band of actors has to deal with some medieval competition We read, While we were preparing to put on our play a band of jongleurs came to the inn to the sound of drums and bagpipes, and began at once to set out their pitch against the wall of the yard, opposite the entrance the best place Jongleurs traveled in groups and entertain people wherever they can, in great halls, at tournaments and archery contests, at fairs and marketplaces In this they resemble players, but unlike us they have no leader and there is no general meaning to what they do, they can combine together or break away Darn, life is tough for a poor, starving acting troupe if it isn t abuse and scorn from the innkeeper and town officials, it s another band of entertainers invading your space.Sitting around a fire at night, the head player, Martin by name, recounts how small traveling groups of players such as theirs are being squeezed out not only by jongleurs but by all the big, powerful, wealthy acting guilds who stay in one place and perform an entire cycle of elaborate plays Rather than playing a set piece like The Play of Adam, Martin comes up with a new idea he tells the group they should play the murder of Thomas Wells Such a unique approach provokes much discussion and debate but the troupe senses all the townspeople will show up for such a play and pay handsomely From this point, the tension and drama of the novel builds chapter by chapter.Throughout the story there is telling detail of the way the fourteenth century players acted their parts, which adds real spice to the reading of this novel For example, here is a description of one of the players, Straw by name, But there was in Straw an instinct for playing, or rather a meeting of instinct and knowledge, a natural impulse of the body I do not know what to call it, but is something that can neither be taught nor learned For the part of the temptress he had devised a strange and frightening way of bending the body stiffly sideways with the head held for a moment in inquiry and hands just above the waist, palms outward and fingers stiffly splayed in a gesture of his own invention So for a moment, while he made the pause to see the effects of his tempting, he was frozen in wicked inquiry Then he broke again into sinuous motion, gesturing the delights that awaited Thomas Wells On a road some way from the town, the priest player narrator relays what he sees when he looks down the road The snow made a mist and at one moment there was nothing but this mist and at one moment there was nothing but this mist and at the next there were dark shapes in it, advancing slowly up the hill, two riders and with them a great black beast whose head rose high as theirs and it had red eyes and above its head there moved with it a shape of red, dark red in the white of snow, and I knew this for the flame of the Beast s breath and I knew what Beast it was and what manner of riders there were and I crossed myself and groaned aloud in my fear, seeing that the Beast had come and my soul was unprepared Turns out, this is only a knight and his squire and horse traveling to a joust But the tenor of the times is in the projection in his fear, the priest sees the fourth horseman of the apocalypse I can t imagine a powerful and compelling story of what it was like to actually live in the wake of the Black Death.British author Barry Unsworth, 1930 2012

  3. says:

    It was a death that began it all and another death that led us on In 2004, I watched a beautiful film starring Willem Dafoe and Vincent Cassel, among others, titled The Reckoning Since then, I was trying to find the book that inspired the movie It wasn t until 2015 that my search finally ended and two years later, I can say that Unsworth created a very memorable and darkly beautiful novel.Nickolas is a young priest that has broken his vows of chastity Running away from his diocese, he comes across a company of traveling players who carry a macabre burden They decide to stay in the nearest village and perform a play out of their usual repertoire which includes Biblical stories However, a crime that has caused quite an upheaval in the community becomes the inspiration for a new play And this is when the implications begin .no one fears players The book is a treasure for those of us interested in the tradition of Morality plays or Mysteries, as they are also called Through pantomime and verse and with complex for the time special effects, the actors used to perform religious themes that would be well known to the audience, peasants and nobles alike Depicting local incidents and contemporary events was unheard of and would remain so for quite some time Here, Martin, the leader of the company, decides to break the rule and perform the murder of a young boy To do so, the company must investigate the disappearence and murder of young Thomas.Nickolas and Martin are the main characters In many ways, they re very similar They are clever and brave but their morality is dubious They understand one has to depart from the righteous path in order to eat and to defend those in need during harsh times The rest of the company are people with interesting background stories, like Stephen and Margaret, but the book is too short and there is very little character development.The writing is beautiful and powerful The marvelous, haunting wintry atmosphere is very important to the feeling of the story and I could feel as if I was walking in the medieval market as the snow was falling silently upon the grey tower and the huts There are many issues addressed in the novel The Plague carries victims in its passing, but death doesn t come from illness exclusively Humans are the worst, most ruthless murderers Poverty makes people obey and bend the knee to every Lord that oppresses them in every level without question Nickolas thoughts and his interactions with Martin and the King s Justice provide much food thought on psychological and social issues The freedom of choice, the notion of duty, the hypocrisy and violence The crime and the punishment.As I said, the only negative element is the small length of the novel I wanted to see and understand of the characters I wanted to see a rounded closure to the stories of the players, to the fortune of the village and the justice performed Apart from that, this is an excellent book that I can t place in one genre Mystery, thriller, Historical Fiction, psychological study and the list goes on It is fast paced, memorable and full of vivid images However, on my opinion, this is a rare case of the film being completed and well rounded than the book The two complement each other in a perfect way.

  4. says:

    When you reread an old favourite you run the risk of finding out it wasn t that great, but that didn t happen here Not at all Brilliant medieval sort of quasi murder mystery in which an entire troop of strolling players turns into a collective detective that s a good enough idea right there but it s not the main one here which is no less than the dawning of modern self consciousness I know, sounds very pompous But it s not, it s so neatly expressed and it sends a shiver through your very readerly spine You ll wish you were a porcupine so you could have spines to shiver Recommended for everybody.

  5. says:

    The best of historical fiction is said to comment on the time during which it was written, not just the time being written about Here, though, the focus is perhaps on a universal theme, the idea that nothing ever changes, especially concerning those in power controlling or suppressing the truth for their own benefit If you re looking for a mystery which I didn t read this as , the story might seem formulaic The nature of the crime and the perpetrator came at me from a mile away and many characters are basically stock figures as befitting a morality play While it s true the members of the troupe of players the word actor is never used , along with a woman who travels with them, delve into the mystery as if they were almost detectives, the novel is also a reflection on the nature of art, of storytelling, how it can get at truth even if all the details are not accurate, even if the ending is unknown, even if a first motive is profit The townspeople do not come out in droves for the players first offering, a stock morality play, but they pack the area for a play that is about themselves, becoming vocal when something seems wrong The audience intervention helps the players get at of the truth, along with showing the benefit and danger of questioning a story put out by authorities The revelatory play within the play or novel reminded me of Hamlet s play wherein I ll catch the conscience of the king.A different form of playing jousting for the entertainment of the upper classes is seen as a substitute blood sport for those who send out their underlings to do the actual fighting in actual battles, another reflection on the political world of today, of just about any day.

  6. says:

    Barry Unsworth s Morality Play proves to be equal parts Ellis Peters Brother Cadfael and learned explication of medieval life Please don t let that put you off This brief, thoroughly entertaining novel won the Booker Prize, and you ll see why almost immediately Wayward priest Nicholas Barber ran away from his diocese during the springtime Having run afoul of a cuckolded husband, at Christmas time he has fled afield and crosses paths with a traveling acting troupe just at the moment when one of their number has suddenly died Nicholas eagerly takes refuge with them, while the players reluctantly consent, as they are in need of another actor In route to a gig, they stop on the way to make a little extra coinage entertaining at a village controlled by one Lord Richard de Guise That the decision will prove an unwise one Nicholas announces from the very first page A 12 year old peasant boy has been murdered, and a local woman charged with the crime Hollywood today can t resist a brutal murder, nor could these medieval players, who adapt the story into a play of their own a very novel move in Northern England at the time However, the they delve into the brutal killing, the less the authorities version of what happened holds together.Like The Name of the Rose before it, Morality Play brings the Middle Ages and its scourges of war, plague, corruption, and grinding poverty to life under the guise of a whodunnit Enjoy the heart stopping suspense and the shocking ending, and, as a side benefit, get an unvarnished glimpse into the plight of the common man in 14th century Northern England Highly, highly recommended.

  7. says:

    this was my introduction to the historical novels of barry unsworth and i really appreciate his idea of telling a story set in the past he doesn t overwhelm the reader with his precious research rather he provides in morality tale a whodunnit set in the middle ages his style of historical writing is like a high end manicure the story is buffed and polished, and then painted with two or three coats of in the colours of the era, in the reflection of historical context in which he has chosen to set his story that s not to say research isn t done it s just not overwhelming, and unsworth allows himself to speculate about how things might have been short, sweet, intriguing little novel i highly recommend proviso i do not recommend discussing this book with somebody you brought home from the bar they might ask you if it is a based on a true story the doings of a band of travelling players who try to figure out the murder of a boy by creating a play based on the facts they are able to gather was likely to be well documented, right and you might just look at the cross eyed, and tell them you ll call them a cab.not that that ever happened to me, or anything P

  8. says:

    Well, well, well, Barry Didn t think we would meet again after that ghastly horror that The Land of Marvels was But this wasn t half bad The book takes place in late fourteenth century and tells the story of Nicholas, a fugitive monk ,who joins a travelling troupe As the narrator says It was a death that began it all and another death that led us on Now, writing a literary crime fiction novel revolving around medieval theatre is a very original concept in itself Unsworth moves very well within the constraints of the world view of the times, and his characters are accurate representations of medieval mentality where fear is the most familiar feeling of all In the world of war, feudalism, plague and the cruel God punishing you for all sorts of random things, there is indeed a lot to fear.Unsworth brings the Middle Ages to life with its smells, sounds and sights most of them aren t pretty The atmosphere is so real that you feel like you need a shower afterwards While Unsworth paints the landscape masterfully, he is, sadly, not as skilled with portraits The characters melt into one mass of a generic medieval man This inability to create memorable characters was also my main complaint about The Land of Marvels and by memorable I mean that if you read their name of on the page, some image comes to your mind To be honest, the characters remained strangers to me and if I passed them on the street I wouldn t recognise them In Morality Play there was at least a pretty good story to back it up The troupe arrives in a small town where a twelve year boy was recently murdered allegedly by the Weaver s daughter and she has already been sentenced and is now awaiting execution When the troupe s regular biblical plays fails to attract as much attention as they hoped for, Simon, unofficial leader of the group, has an idea to present a play that would depict the little boy s murder If you think that s not a big deal, you obviously never lived in the Middle Ages Back then you went to hell for things like that You can t just play out actual local events It s wrong and it s a sin Yet, the troupe s bellies are empty and the promise of money together with a challenge that playing something new and original would present are enough to convince the players to give it a go Here is probably, where most of us will have to suspend our historical disbelief, for Martin and his troupe have just singlehandedly revolutionised the theatre If they hadn t, there would be no story, so let s cut Unsworth some slack Obviously with the superiority of centuries of experience a modern reader can tell right away that the poor girl is innocent but the players don t realise that until they start acting the whole murder out and things are just not quite right And before they know it they are investigating a crime through a play Morality Play is what you call a cracking read, and would be a lot better if Unsworth didn t constantly interrupt to drone on about how we all wear masks, and we get so into our roles that we forget that they are roles, and the world is a stage and we are all actors, and it is all so unbelievably revelatory, Barry I am sure no one has ever thought of it before Except for, maybe, Shakespeare There really was a little too much heavy handed symbolism made for eye rolling only, because it didn t enrich the story in any way.All in all, I am not a Barry Unsworth convert I still fail to see what the big deal about him is, but Morality Play was fairly enjoyable and I would even recommend it Especially to people who like short books, chop, chop, chop.

  9. says:

    Sometimes the best discoveries start as chance events I saw this book in a second hand shop and thought little than oh Barry Unsworth, he s the one who wrote Sacred Hunger, that might be interesting As it turned out this was an inspired choice This is on one level a tautly plotted murder mystery, secondly fourteenth century social history, and thirdly and perhaps deepest an investigation of the birth of modern theatre The narrator, a fugitive monk bored with his work, stumbles upon a group of travelling players whose trade is in religious mystery plays, and joins their company to replace a dead man Their need for money in a strange town leads them to improvise a play based on the murder of a local boy, and as the play and the story evolve, a dark truth emerges.

  10. says:

    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 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 Thus, Unsworth adds a sense of mournful irony to the character of Marin Ball, for both author and reader are aware of the subsequent developments in theatre that would allow men like Martin creative liberty in their writing For his own time however, Martin is an oddity and is the driving force behind the group s investigation of the town s murder.Throughout this short novel, we are presented with fascinating snippets of Nicholas philosophy His commentary contains deep insight into issues relevant to his own time as well as the world in general My favourite of his reflections is this one that he gives as he witnesses a tournament He says We were the people now, in our turn they the nobles the players And the play was their own valor and pride I had seen jousting before, in courtyards and open fields, combats of single champions and melees with a hundred fighting, sometimes with weapons blunted, sometimes not It is a spectacle very popular with the people now They crowd to see it with great advantage to pickpockets and whores But now, perhaps because I had become a player myself, as the trumpets sounded again and the heralds shouted, it came to me for the first time that this was the greatest example of playing our times afforded We were players by profession and borrowed roles as seemed fitting The nobility had only the one but they persisted in it, though denounced by popes and kings for the violence and vainglory of it and the expenditure of money which might have been better spent in maintaining those same popes and kings In this passage as well as others, Nicholas extols the idea that everyone is an actor, performing upon one of the many hierarchical stages that make up the world It is a similar sentiment to that expressed by Shakespeare in his famous quotation, All the world s a stage, and all the men and women merely players Unsworth takes the often cited analogy of the world being a stage and explores the depths of their likenesses By the end of the novel, Unsworth has you seeing the world in the same way as Nicholas, who, his transformation to actor complete, views the entire world as a series of ranked stages Morality Play is than just a mystery it is a profound examination of the nature of acting and the effects of role playing I highly recommend it as a deep and compelling novel with an unusual take on both historical fiction and mystery.