Internet Shakespeare Editions


Vice and virtue

The Castle of Perseverance is unusual among morality plays in that it balances the vices with an equivalent number of virtues.

On the stage for which The Castle of Perseverance was designed, however, the raised scaffolds (the dominant part of the stage) are given almost entirely to the vices. There is one scaffold for God, but the other four are given to the World, the Flesh, the Devil (Belial), and to Covetous, the deadly sin which triumphs over Mankind at the end.

It is perhaps a human tendency to find vice more interesting than virtue; the prominence given the vices in The Castle of Perseverance becomes typical of later moralities, where the vices take up most of the stage time, and often finish up fighting amongst themselves.

"That reverend Vice"

One character in the moralities became especially popular. He was called simply the Vice, and he would dart about the stage disguising himself as a virtue, playing tricks on virtues and vices alike, and generally indulging in a lot of slapstick comedy.

Both early comedies and tragedies included parts for a vice, called names like Ambidexter, or Subtle Shift.

Falstaff is called "that reverend vice, that grey iniquity" (Henry IV, Part One, 2. 4. 458-59), and in many ways he performs the function of a Vice--amoral, corrupting, and amusing.