The diabolical game to win man's soul: a rhetorical and structural approach to "mankind"




Castle, Dorothy Renshaw

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Over the years scholars have been strident in their negative comments about Mankind, a medieval morality play. Among other things, the critics have argued that Mankind lacks a central organizing principle, boasts extraneous parts, and includes scatological humor to appeal to an uneducated rural audience. Although recent scholars have attempted to correct this erroneous view of Mankind, few would consider the manuscript of Mankind as literary art. Analysis of Mankind using techniques of classical rhetorical analysis and modern structural analysis based on the theories of Claude Levi-Strauss and Tzvetan Todorov displays the literary artistry of Mankind from two different perspectives. The standard of this literary artistry evolves from Victor Shklovsky's theory of defamiliarization in which the playwright presents well-known Christian doctrine creatively through imagery, dichotomies, and rhetorical technique to regain the attention of medieval audiences and from Roland Barthes's theory of art "without noise" in which all of the parts of Mankind fit smoothly together. Levi-Strauss's theory of binary opposition and Todorov's ideas concerning minimal plot structure have been used without changes; however, Todorov's views regarding propositions, sequences, moods, and transformations have been adapted to the needs of dramatic analysis. Examination of the language of the play from the two perspectives reveals that Mankind's foundation in the deep structure is the binary opposition of Good-Evil which manifests itself in the controlling principle of the game metaphor, detailing a game between the forces of Good and Evil for Mankind's soul, the entity that passes back and forth on the surface between the states of equilibrium and disequilibrium. The playwright's images and dichotomies are tightly intertwined with each other and with the Good-Evil opposition that spawned them, supporting the two major themes of sovereignty and rhetoric from several angles simultaneously. The scatological humor graphically depicts the state of the souls of the evil characters. Such a well-constructed play is literary art which can appeal to both educated and uneducated audiences.



Claude Levi-Strauss, Tzvetan Todorov, British and Irish literature, Literary art, Language, literature, and linguistics