This essay starts with a comment from a choric figure in Jonson’s The Staple of News (1626): that the Vice and other figures from the older moral drama now appear onstage “attired like men and women o'the time.” After a review of contemporary evidence, the focus is on three 2015 productions. First is a clearly allegorical script, Carol Ann Duffy’s adaptation of the best known moral play, Everyman, at the National Theatre where a relatively short early Tudor play, with its homily linked to the protagonist’s preparation for Death and a final reckoning, was transformed into a much longer polemic against today’s abuse of the environment. The other two items singled out are the RSC productions at the Swan of The Jew of Malta and Volpone, neither of which contains overt allegory yet both include sections that may have been understood then in near allegorical terms, whether to depict a sleeping Christianity in Marlowe’s Malta or an ejection of Conscience in Jonson’s Venice. The goal is to call attention to the possibility of new possibilities and meanings lurking behind a familiar episode or configuration so that theatre history, rather than being reductive, can display how the play of ideas in a scene or sequence could be both entertaining and meaningful in their theatrical terms and--perhaps--still translatable into ours.


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pp. 219-232
Launched on MUSE
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