Thesis Title

A Psychological Evaluation of the Performance Text of the Morality Play in Relation to the Black Death

Author

Kevin Babbitt

Date of Graduation

Spring 2004

Degree

Master of Arts

Department

Theatre and Dance

Committee Chair

Jodi Kanter

Keywords

theatre, death, medieval, plague, morality play, psychology

Subject Categories

Theatre and Performance Studies

Abstract

The psychological phenomenon known as "fear of death" intensified greatly during the Middle Ages due to the exceedingly high rate of morbidity and the almost constant barrage of death imagery brought about by multiple outbreaks of the Black Death. This heightened anxiety of death becomes evident in the genesis of the medieval morality play when considered in terms of modern psychological theories of death. Kastenbaum and Aisenberg's work, The Psychology of Death, provides evidence of several manners in which this fear of death might be lessened. Among these are the following: the creation of a sense of community, provision for theological concerns, the portrayal of death as a personified enemy, the reinforcement of Christian ideas of immortality, and the use of humor as a distancing mechanism. By examining the performance text of these dramas as a ritual designed to help the medieval psyche deal with the anxiety surrounding death, one may begin to observe the ways in which they attempted to alleviate and overcome this fear.

Copyright

© Kevin Babbitt

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Dissertation/Thesis

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