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A Satire of the Three Estates


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A: Sir David Lindsay (or Lyndsay) Pf: 1540, Linlithgow Pb: 1602 G: Morality play in 2 parts; verse in Scots dialect S: Scotland, 16th c. C: 27m, 9fA learned doctor Diligence delivers a sermon on Christian doctrine. The main character then appears King Humanity (rex humanitas), who is at first led astray by Sensuality and the Vices. He even consigns Charity and Verity to the stocks. The Poor Man, emerging from the audience, establishes an alliance with John the Commonweal to demand reform, and Diligence reappears to announce that the King will seek to improve his realm. In the second part the three Estates are summoned: Spirituality (the Church), Temporality (the aristocracy), and Burgesses (merchants). All three are subjected to scathing criticism, which Temporality and Burgesses accept, but which is rejected by Spirituality, who acknowledges no authority but the Pope. John the Commonweal presses his case more strongly, and there are a number of comic scenes illustrating the excesses of the clergy. Temporality and Burgesses agree to join forces to put an end to the Church's misuse of its power and wealth. In an epilogue Folly denounces all men, including the king, declaring them all to be fools.

A: Sir David Lindsay (or Lyndsay) Pf: 1540, Linlithgow Pb: 1602 G: Morality play in 2 parts; verse in Scots dialect S: Scotland, 16th c. C: 27m, 9f

This is the only surviving play of a Scottish theatrical tradition of mystery and morality plays that was probably as vigorous as that in England. It is a lively and forceful piece, which was premiered before James V of Scotland, who was moved by the performance to exhort the Scots clergy ‘to reforme their facions and maners of lyving’. The piece has enjoyed a number of modern revivals, especially in Scotland.

Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).


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