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26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliantly written, authoritatively researched
With impeccable research, and without a single inappropriate archaism or self-conscious "mediaevalism" Unsworth, with great subtlety, catches the spirit of the times. The images of death and corruption (both of body and soul) mirror the social, moral and spiritual collapse of mid-14th century England: the Black Death has literally halved the population,...
Published on 30 Jun 1999

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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable but could have been better
First Sentence: It was a death that began is all and another death that led us on.

Young priest Nicholas Barbar has run away from his safe but boring position at Lincoln Cathedral to join a company of players. Deciding to do something different than has been done before, they decide to make a play out of the real murder which has just occurred. A young boy...
Published on 9 Jan 2009 by L. J. Roberts


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26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliantly written, authoritatively researched, 30 Jun 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: Morality Play (Paperback)
With impeccable research, and without a single inappropriate archaism or self-conscious "mediaevalism" Unsworth, with great subtlety, catches the spirit of the times. The images of death and corruption (both of body and soul) mirror the social, moral and spiritual collapse of mid-14th century England: the Black Death has literally halved the population, land has gone out of cultivation, labour is scarce, prices have risen, people are starving. The feudal system is disintegrating, hastened by the social and economic consequences of the Hundred Years' War. The colourful pageantry of the Christmas jousting masks the debasement of the chivalric code into greed, selfishness and brutality; the purity of the monastic ideal has been replaced by materialism and venality. No wonder there is an upsurge of millenarian sects prophesying the Last Days. The transition of drama from religious to secular is already in process, and Martin takes his players in a visionary and shocking leap forward, fusing the old Mystery Plays with the newer Morality Plays, and for the first time using real events and real people in his True Play of Thomas Wells. The process of detection and the build-up of tension are brilliantly handled; the language, techniques and traditions of mediaeval drama fascinatingly described. Though we can see where the story is leading, the denouement has enough surprises to be satisfying. Though you could read it just as a mediaeval whodunit, you would be missing a great deal. Don't be deceived by its 188 pages. This is a deep and many-layered book - increasingly rewarding with every reading.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars You'll finish it in one sitting, 18 July 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: Morality Play (Paperback)
Perfect: plainly written, not too long and absolutely fascinating. Buy and read this book now.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A revelation, 28 Oct 2013
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This review is from: Morality Play (Paperback)
Being Nicholas Barber, priest, his record of the happenings surrounding the death of Thomas Wells at the hand of Sir Richard de Guise.

Nicholas does find himself peradventure the latest member of a troupe of players who, commonly schooled in the presentation of the Plays of Adam, Noah &c., now in search of novelty, take it upon themselves to play for their audience the events leading to the recent murder of a boy of their parish, young Thos. Wells.

The making of the new play before long becomes an investigation into the truth of the matter, and into the Truth of matters. People, masked and unmasked, characters, those on the stage and those on the ground, those even in the palace, those serving the will of the lord, or the king; all are revealed to be Players in the Play of Life, all under ultimate direction of God.

And though all is told as vain fiction, so all in the end is revealed in truth and justice.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Master at the height of his form, 12 July 2012
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R. Wood - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Morality Play (Paperback)
Shameful though it is, it took Unsworth's recent death to remind me to check out his work. I scanned through the list and this one leapt out at me. It's medieval, which I like, and it's about drama, just like my PhD. I acquired a copy, jumped in - and was immediately blown away with how well Unsworth writes. He doesn't lay on the history research with the proverbial trowel, yet there are things here even I didn't know about. Did medieval players really have a lexicon of hand gestures with which to express emotion? I genuinely don't know but if they didn't they should have and it sounds absolutely convincing in this text. It is also a murder mystery with a paedophile serial killer on the loose in County Durham. But that's not what Morality Play is about. Unsurprisingly, it's about morality and the moral code of the age, which is obviously different to ours.Most of all, though, this is high literature, plainly but beautifully written with the editorial control of a true master. It might only be 188 pages long but there is no way this novel is slight.
Morality Play
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Didn't want it to finish, 21 Nov 2009
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E. Potter (Worcs, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Morality Play (Paperback)
A priest joins a band of players travelling to Durham for a Christmas booking, who while staying in a town en route decide to do something new - a play written by themselves about a recent event, rather than re-enact another biblical story.

'Blasphemous' says the priest, but they go ahead anyway because they need the money.

But the play doesn't turn out as planned...

By now I was totally gripped by the book, and was really disappointed when it finished.
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An insightful and captivating drama, 11 Dec 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: Morality Play (Paperback)
The characters are brilliant and colorful. The time is one of famine and havoc during the 14th century, when a young preist fleeing from his sub-deaconship comes upon a group of travelling players. Nicholas Barber is his name and he tells his story of becoming a player. The death of one player is what prompts Nicholas to join and another could lead to his own. The troupe is on their way to Durham, England where they are promised as a gift from their partron lord. During their travels they come upon a town where they can bury their friend and replenish their purse but when they arrive they learn of another death. The murder of a young boy and the swift conviction of a young women. When the group decides to perform the play of the murder they are in for a wild ride. They do not know the whole truth but are determined to seek it out. "Morality Play" is a captivating drama that relates to many prime topics of the day despite the setting in the middle ages. It is worth the short time it takes to read.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable but could have been better, 9 Jan 2009
By 
L. J. Roberts (Oakland, CA, USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Morality Play (Hardcover)
First Sentence: It was a death that began is all and another death that led us on.

Young priest Nicholas Barbar has run away from his safe but boring position at Lincoln Cathedral to join a company of players. Deciding to do something different than has been done before, they decide to make a play out of the real murder which has just occurred. A young boy was found dead by the roadside and a girl has been condemned for execution. In order to create the play, the players must learn the truth of the crime and uncover, among other things, that the girl is deaf and mute.

Mr. Unsworth has clearly done his research on life in the 14th century. There is wonderful detail about the period and the elaborateness of plays during the time and a case for how plays changed from strictly presenting stories of the Bible into morality plays.

The author has an almost philosophic tone, bordering upon, but not quite crossing into preachy. He presents an interesting prospective on who are actors. It is a remarkably insightful book that causes one to think, question and acknowledge.

As usual, I had a problem with the overwhelming number of portents in the story. At the same time, I was thoroughly engrossed in the story.

Written in a style and cadence which suggests the period, this was not the easiest book to read, but it was well worth the effort.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A peep into history, 20 Jun 2013
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This review is from: Morality Play (Paperback)
Under the guise of a mediaeval mystery Unsworth writes a description of a band of strolling players as they travel around putting on morality plays "en route ".It is well written in simple but polished language which would allows the story -line to flow. Whilst showing how the actors developed their plays around the church and feudal landowners the crime acts as a catalyst in keeping us hooked into the story. It can be read in a matter of hours and would be of interest both to the general crime reader as well as teenagers studying history.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Good, 28 May 2013
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This review is from: Morality Play (Paperback)
this is a well written and interesting book about a troop of medieval actors who are joined by a renegade priest.They present morality plays but are failing to make a living with traditional plays. They arrive in one village to find that a murder has been committed and from this the leader of the troop makes a leap into modern theatre by deciding to create and stage a play about the murder. the book then develops into a whodunit. It is easy and good reading
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5.0 out of 5 stars A good read, 19 Jan 2013
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This review is from: Morality Play (Paperback)
Really enjoyed it, well written and interesting subject. A book club choice and quite short but nevertheless well worth it
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Morality Play
Morality Play by Barry Unsworth (Paperback - 5 Sep 1996)
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