June 2, 2020

Shakespeare and the Morality Plays: A Formal Heritage

Event Series: Christian Shakespeare: Question Mark

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In the mid-sixteenth-century genre of the morality play the interludes featured personified abstract nouns as their characters, divided into good and evil. These productions would have toured the country, teaching Protestant morality to the general population. These plays used verse form in a striking way: frequently in these dramas, good characters speak in one rhyme scheme, and bad in another. Verse form was therefore a way of signaling to the audience which characters were the elect and which the damned. Poet and doctoral student Molly Clark examined these conventions and the ways in which they were manipulated before turning to Shakespeare, who grew up with morality plays and imbibed their dramaturgy. The discussion, moderated by Professor Michael Scott, considered the ways in which Shakespeare himself played with the idea of verse form as moral indicator.

This event was sponsored by the Future of the Humanities Project, the Las Casas Institute (Blackfriars Hall, University of Oxford), and the Georgetown Humanities Initiative. It is part of a year long series entitled: "Christian Shakespeare: Question Mark."


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Molly Clark is in the second year of a doctor of philosophy degree at Merton College, Oxford, researching rhyme in Shakespeare’s theater. Her article on this subject appears in Oxford Research in English (Issue 7, Autumn 2018), and she has an article on rhyme in mid-sixteenth-century drama forthcoming in Studies in Philology. She also publishes poetry under her full name, Mary Anne Clark, and she won the Newdigate Prize in 2016.

Professor Michael Scott is Senior Dean, Fellow of Blackfriars Hall, college adviser for postgraduate students, and a Member of the Las Casas Institute. He also serves as senior adviser to the president at Georgetown University.