“Public, Scurrilous and Profane”: Transformations in Moral Drama and Political Economy, 1465-1599

Doctoral Dissertation


This project demonstrates the intense symbolic and material engagement of popular English moral drama with the social and economic forces of the emerging capitalist state. Challenging long held critical assumptions about the “morality play’s"� "tedious"� rehashing of conservative religious doctrine, I argue that moral drama is an intensely political form from its inception, and that playwrights from the late fifteenth century to the height of Elizabethan playing use literary and performance conventions to both veil and articulate inflammatory perspectives on social justice, labor, and commercialism. As the nascent state lends increasing support to those on the leading edge of the shift toward market dependency” from the yeomen of rural East Anglia to London’s merchant-class citizens" moral drama’s criticism of this target audience grows more overt. This critique solicits and defines a “middling"� Protestant ethos. By closely reading literary and performance conventions, I reveal that the difference between early and late moral drama is best grasped not as the break typically depicted in periodizing accounts but as a proliferation of the spirit of innovation intrinsic to moral drama. Chapter one argues that Mankind (1465) implicates yeoman allegiance as the decisive factor in a psychomachic battle between "good,"� a nostalgic feudalism, and "evil,"� increasingly monetized market relations. Chapter two examines plays by William Wager (1558-69) that solicit and materialize an urban merchant class, prescribing casuistic discernment against the lures of capitalist gain. Chapter three demonstrates how two chronicle plays, Cambises (1561) and Horestes (1567) test contrasting theories of state to imagine an economically salubrious solution to social discord that renders Christian morality a cultural practice. In chapter four, Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus and The Jew of Malta interrogate the relation of the citizen to his own labor, and the subsumption of that labor to the emerging, market-dependent state economy. By chapter five’s Every Man Out of His Humour (1599), casuistry has become social judgement and virtue is signified by good taste, as Jonson stages a ubiquitous market mentality that infects all social relations.


Attribute NameValues
  • etd-11292005-131852

Author Ineke Murakami
Advisor Graham Hammill
Contributor Graham Hammill, Committee Member
Degree Level Doctoral Dissertation
Degree Discipline English
Degree Name Doctor of Philosophy
Defense Date
  • 2005-10-31

Submission Date 2005-11-29
  • United States of America

  • morality play

  • convention

  • performance

  • class

  • politics

  • economics

  • University of Notre Dame

  • English

Access Rights Open Access
Content License
  • All rights reserved

Departments and Units


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