Your Garage botysf16 Amazon Fashion Learn more nav_sap_plcc_ascpsc CaseLangVeirs Fire TV Stick Subscribe & Save Patriotic Picks Shop-by-Room Amazon Cash Back Offer WienerDog WienerDog WienerDog  Amazon Echo  Echo Dot  Amazon Tap  Echo Dot  Amazon Tap  Amazon Echo Introducing new colors All-New Kindle Oasis Segway miniPro

Format: Paperback|Change
Price:$13.30+ Free shipping with Amazon Prime
Your rating(Clear)Rate this item


There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.

on June 4, 2000
This simple story serves as a framework for a history lesson as well as a depressing yet fascinating glimpse into life in fourteenth century England. Although nowhere near as ambitious or complex, Morality Play has many of the same attractions as "An Incidence of the Fingerpost." It is a window into a world long gone, alien and difficult for us to imagine, and all the more enthralling because of it. It is a fascinating book that can be read in a few hours.
Fleeing the rigors of the priesthood, as well as an outraged husband, Nicholas joins a band of actors to survive in this nearly lawless land. The small ragged group travels together for protection and to perform stylized plays in small villages along the way for pennies. The plague is in the land again, starvation is an ever present threat, and Kings and Lords hold the power of life and death over the desperately poor. Unwittingly, the group of players stumble into a village which was recently the site of the murder of a young boy. A young woman has been tried for the crime and is to hang immediately. Step by step the group is drawn into this real life drama of life and death until their own wretched existence is at stake.
Although this is a clever plot in a deceptively simple story, the period is the real attraction here. The author captures the most desperate existence imaginable while painting a portrait of a cold, gray, primitive England that is vivid and memorable. A fast and entertaining book.
0Comment|26 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on November 28, 2000
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. It is a proposal fraught with peril, not only to their physical safety, but also to their moral well-being, for as Nicholas suggests, "if we make our own meanings, God will oblige us to answer our own questions, He will leave us in the void without the comfort of his Word."
The players accept Martin's suggestion, and soon the facts surrounding the murder of Thomas Wells, as well as the motives and behavior of the players, become troubling and enigmatic. The result is an absorbing narrative that unravels as part murder mystery, part suspense story and part historical fiction, the telling all the time enriched by Nicholas Barber's first person voice and diction.
"Morality Play" leaves the reader with a profoundly satisfying feeling for the historical period and the characters. But the book also operates on a deeper level, the text providing an often thought-provoking gloss on the relationship between theatre and reality, between life on the stage and real life. "Morality Play" is, thus, like all great fiction, not only an entertainment, but an intellectually stimulating short novel that educates even as it delights.
0Comment|20 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on October 1, 1999
Barry Unsworth's "Morality Play" is a brilliantly told murder mystery set in 14th century medieval England. It tells of how a fallen monk in his escape from the monastery joins up with a travelling theatre troupe and in the process helps solve a town murder by performing a morality play to expose the murderer. There are strong shades of Umberto Eco's "The Name Of The Rose" in this wonderfully captivating novel, which though far less ambitious in its aims, is arguably as effective in its delivery. Unsworth's prose is simple, unpretentious and uncluttered, yet so beautifully written with a sureness of touch that renders the overall effect almost poetic. A highly engaging novel that I would recommend unreservedly to anyone who enjoys a murder mystery in an unusual setting.
0Comment|12 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on April 23, 2002
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. It is a proposal fraught with peril, not only to their physical safety, but also to their moral well-being, for as Nicholas suggests, "if we make our own meanings, God will oblige us to answer our own questions, He will leave us in the void without the comfort of his Word."
The players accept Martin's suggestion, and soon the facts surrounding the murder of Thomas Wells, as well as the motives and behavior of the players, become troubling and enigmatic. The result is an absorbing narrative that unravels as part murder mystery, part suspense story and part historical fiction, the telling all the time enriched by Nicholas Barber's first person voice and diction.
"Morality Play" leaves the reader with a profoundly satisfying feeling for the historical period and the characters. But the book also operates on a deeper level, the text providing an often thought-provoking gloss on the relationship between theatre and reality, between life on the stage and real life. "Morality Play" is, thus, like all great fiction, not only an entertainment, but an intellectually stimulating short novel that educates even as it delights.
0Comment|8 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on February 13, 2002
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, like a play. As we all know, life is art, and art is life. Unsworth takes us to the next step as he illuminates a world, perhaps ultimately not that different from ours, that does not welcome light thrown onto its preferred mode of darkness.
On one level, "Morality Play" is a simple tale of traveling players during the calamitous fourteenth century, a time when all bad aspects of life were perhaps at their ascendancy. The author spares us neither the plague nor the corruption of the church and the nobility. There is more than enough avarice and cruelty in this short volume to make the reader grateful that our days are so much better.
As one expects in a narrative of the Middle Ages, Fortune drives men to their destiny, in spite of any thoughts, wishes, or desires recalcitrant or reasoning minds may offer in opposition. It is Fortune that drives Nicholas Barber, our erstwhile narrator, to join a troupe of itinerant players. It is Fortune that drives the players to a town that recently had lost a child through foul murder. It is also Fortune that drives the players to create a new art form, plays based on life though still rooted in types. The end has more than a hint of deus ex machina, making the point that the timeless is so for a reason, perhaps the most valid reason of all.
Although the players are types on stage, the change is obvious as each shifts to a position where it is not clear whether the person or the role is more in control. These players are radical beyond what a casual reader might suspect. Completely absent from their discussion is the medieval respect for "auctoritee," the belief that nothing new was permitted. Given Unsworth's attention to detail, this omission must be deliberate. Indeed, one of the reasons the players decide to proceed with their play based in reality is to make money, a desire more modern than medieval. Yet, the reader wonders at what point the modern world gave its mother the pains of birth. Could it have been that players first showed people the fruits of new impulses towards art?
Through it all, Nicholas Barber, our errant priest narrator, discovers that to follow one's heart is to follow one's nature, and there perhaps one may find whatever God there is. For his part, he finds a way to live more full of life than the old texts who were his companions for so many years could ever provide. I hope that Barry Unsworth gives him a chance to speak again in another novel. I would gladly her his voice again.
Ultimately, the players are our contemporaries, in spirit if not in time. By shedding light on their time, the reader wonders what shadows we cast. No more than they knew what they were starting, are we able to see what will come, in the end, of all that we hold dear. Like traveling players looking for food and shelter in winter, we make our way as best we can in the our circumstances, beset on all sides by the powers that honor only privilege.
"Morality Play" seems to me a highly successful book. I recommend it for those with an interest in medieval life, as well as for those with a curiosity about why life and art might have all turned out as it did. It is a little book, not a big book, but it does force some big ideas upon the careful reader. Well done, Mr. Unsworth.
0Comment|8 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on June 6, 2000
I bought this book because I like the Middle Ages. I'm not a big mystery reader, but I really enjoyed this novel. It takes place in England in the later Middle Ages, where a group of traveling actors stop at a small village to perform a religious play called a morality play. The actors discover that a murder has recently been committed so they decide to research the murder and put a play about that instead. This is a short book but the author really fleshes out the characters well and you really feel like you are discovering clues along with the actors. The ending is a suprise as well. I would recommend this to all myster fans and to anyone interested in reading about the everyday life of a person living in the Middle Ages.
0Comment|11 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
Barry Unsworth's short novel "Morality Play" (1995) is a murder-mystery set in 14th century England, but it is much more. It is a story that explores the changing boundaries between the medieval and the modern and that illuminates the power of drama to help people understand their experiences.

The narrator of the book is a 23-year old priest, Nicholas Barber, who becomes restless with his calling, runs away, has a brief affair with a married woman, and meets a group of itinerant players who are burying one of their number. Nicholas joins the troupe which heads to a small village where they decide to make a play of the fresh murder of a 12-year old boy, Thomas Wells, in the community. A young deaf and dumb woman is being held for the murder. The troupe is compelled to perform their play for the local baron, Sir Richard de Guise (in a scene that reminded me of Hamlet's performance for Claudius). They come closer to the truth of the murder than they realize.

There are vivid pictures in this book of English medieval life, of corrupt monks and priests, plagues, dusty towns, jousting, knights, the life of wandering actors and performers called joungleurs, and much else. And the mystery itself is abosrbing. Nevertheless, in my reading I found these features of the book secondary.

I found "Morality Play" most intriguing in the character development of Nicholas and in the attendant picture of a rising modernity. Nicholas is dissatisfied in his budding life as a cleric and ultimately decides that the life of a clergyman is not for him. "The impulse to run away had not been folly but the wisdom of the heart," (p. 206) he concludes. There is a turn to secularization in Nicholas's story, and to finding and following one's own star in life.

Many other features of the novel illustrate the move to and nature of the modern temprament. The players initially object to performing a play based upon the murder of young Thomas Wells in part because the story is not biblically-based and the meaning of it in the divine plan is not revealed (unlike, say, the Fall, or the story of Cain and Abel.) But as a member of the troupe observes, "Men can give meanings to things. That is no sin because our meanings are only for the time, they can be changed." (pp.74-75)

The troupe decides to perform its story of Thomas Wells to make money, a distinctively modern motivation. The members of the troupe investigate the circumstances surrounding the murder, and their play suggests how art and science are means of approaching the truth. Ultimately the murder is solved by an investigator sent by the King, and the story has something to say about the relationship between a rising central government and medieval feudalism. Finally, a young woman of easy virtue, Margaret, has been accompaning the troupe as the mistress of one of the players. She also does a great deal of value for the troupe and contributes towards preparation of the play about Thomas Wells. Yet, the troupe does not consider her as one of their number due to her gender. She becomes highly angry with this and leaves the players to make her way on her own.

Thus, I think this book has a great deal to say about the growth of secularism and the rise of views of personal growth and personal identity, naturalism in art, strong civil government, gender issues, and other matters that move the story forward from the medieval time in which it is set. The "Play of Thomas Wells" is itself a drama that tells a story of our modern world and of the factors which have led to its development.

Robin Friedman
0Comment|6 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on January 2, 2004
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. There's no history to slog through--throughout, context is implied briefly as the narrative proceeds; there are no "info dumps"--and the story is in motion by the time you get to page two. It's a tight story, a shrewd observation of the functions and origins of art, and a convincing historical setting, in that order of prominence. My reason for emphasizing this order is that I'd like people like me, who don't read historical fiction, to try this one.
There's a lot to admire, but most of it can be reduced to this: clarity. Clarity of thought, clarity of plot, clarity of language. An admirable trick in itself is the way the language seems always "period" in flavor, but is never arcane or difficult.
I've been recommending this one.
0Comment|6 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on April 18, 2000
How can I say "buy this book -- don't let any negative reviews deter you" -- without seeming to contradict or criticize some of the negative comments? (Good comments, but some were possibly the result of preconceived notions.)
I didn't expect a great mystery -- the concept was intriguing in itself, and it wouldn't have mattered to me if the murder had remained unsolved.
I did expect a sure hand with the time, place, voice, characters -- the important stuff, and I sure got that.
I don't feel that any characters were left hanging or that Unsworth "lost interest" -- the book could have been longer, but not because loose ends needed to be tied up. I just wanted to spend more time with Nicholas and the other players.
Those people came alive, and it would have been quite an adventure (or not, and that's okay too) to travel with them a while longer.
Read this book! You won't need your Latin-English dictionary either.
0Comment|5 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on July 9, 2006
I wasn't sure about this book in the beginning, but I love historical mysteries, so I tried it out. The narrator, Nicholas Barber, is a former priest who walked away from his place and joined a group of travelling players--remarkable for a time when you were born to a social station and stayed there all your life. That is, in fact, a recurring theme--being trapped in a role, escaping from it, choosing the part you play in your own life.

The mystery, which centers around the murder of a young boy, is interesting--true mystery lovers will probably figure out the ending long before the narrator does. But the surrounding story of Nicholas's development as a person and of the accused goat girl was interesting enough to keep me reading. Overall, it was a satisfying book.
0Comment|5 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse

Customers also viewed these items

$13.63
$9.90

Send us feedback

How can we make Amazon Customer Reviews better for you?
Let us know here.