Tudor Morality Plays in Modern Cinema: Ritual in morality plays and Repo Men


This post continues the series on Tudor Morality Plays and their ongoing presence in modern cinema. The earlier posts, entitled Set, Costumes, and Dance of Death, and Central Character can be read in these links. The issue of ritual to morality plays are also present in modern cinema. Throughout the series I have chosen to employ the film Repo Men as representative of modern cinema. If you are unfamiliar with the film, perhaps this article would be more meaningful after reading the plot summary linked above.

Ritual in medieval drama visibly symbolized an invisible ‘spiritual’ action performed in reality.[1] The plays make visible the desired spiritual trait or activity. Through this ritual, “a collective articulation is being celebrated; from past experiences and individual responses, a collective attitude is formulated.”[2] The morality play served the audience by reviewing right attitudes set in a contemporary scenario. Potter explains that, “By rehearsing in an articulated and formal sequence the correct attitudes, ritual causes the truth to ‘come true.’”[3]  Ritual then functioned to integrate general truths out of the particulars of human experience. The plays make a connection “between this outer world of events and the inner world of feelings.”[4]

Repo Men followed the sequence of plot development found in morality plays. As stated above, Remy found redemption of sorts through the rescue of Beth from her life of drugs. These truths are further recounted in Remy’s typed cautionary tale. He states,

“So what is it that I am writing? It is not some crappy memoir or even an attempt for apologizing for everything I have done. This is a cautionary tale– A hope that you might learn from my mistakes. ‘Cause in the end, a ‘job is not a job,’ it’s who you are and if you want to change who you are, first, you have to change what you do.”[5]

It is in the details of Remy’s human experience that he is able to draw out particular truths for the audience. The moral of Remy’s tale reflects biblical concepts that one’s acts reflect what their heart desires most.

Origins of the structure of morality plays remain uncertain.[6] However vague the origins it is certain that, “the morality play, an archetypal example of the theater of demonstration, is both didactic (in the sense of teaching Christian doctrine) and ritualistic (in the sense of ‘proving’ it). These interwoven strands of didacticism and ritual together provide the origins of the morality play.”[7] Repo mendemonstrate teaching in Remy’s narrations throughout the movie, calling viewers to take heed of his story and change their ways.


[1] Gordon Kipling, Enter the King: Theatre, Liturgy, and Ritual in the Medieval Civic Triumph (Oxford; New York: Clarendon Press ; Oxford University Press, 1998), 19.

[2] Potter, The English Morality Play: Origins, History, and Influence of a Dramatic Tradition, 10.

[3] Ibid.,  11.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Sapochnik, “Repo Man,” 1:02:38-1:03:17.

[6] See Potter (1975) 12-13. He suggests, “There are indications that at least the structure of the morality play (as distinct from its intellectual substance, which is medieval and Christian) can be traced to similar origins in fertility ritual. The link which connects morality play and ritual is a folk ritual drama known as the mummers’ play. Exactly what the mummers’ play was like in the Middle Ages we cannot be certain, since it is an orally transmitted form (like the ballad) which went officially unnoticed until folklorists began to record it in the eighteenth century.”…“However three facts are abundantly clear: the mummers’ play is an ancient outgrowth of fertility ritual; it existed in some form in medieval times; and it influenced the developing medieval drama.”…“Its central act, a battle of champions to the death, with a miraculous revival, reproduces the ritual battle of winter and summer, the rhythm of death and regeneration, the ritual burial of winter and the resurrection of life” (12). However the similarities between the mummer’s play and morality play should not be overstressed. “Medieval scholars are justifiably cautious about ‘pagan’ myth and ritual, and its supposed dominance in Christian works of literature” (13).

[7] Potter, The English Morality Play: Origins, History, and Influence of a Dramatic Tradition, 16.

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2 responses to “Tudor Morality Plays in Modern Cinema: Ritual in morality plays and Repo Men

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