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THE YORK PILATE AND THE SEVEN DEADLY SINS

Sally Mussetter
Neuphilologische Mitteilungen
Vol. 81, No. 1 (1980), pp. 57-64
Published by: Modern Language Society
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/43343305
Page Count: 8
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THE YORK PILATE AND THE SEVEN DEADLY SINS
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Abstract

The character of Pilate in the York play, "The Dream of Pilate's Wife," has most frequently been judged a dramatically "weak" character because he vacillates willy-nilly between enmity and sympathy toward the accused Savior. A close examination of the play's structure, however, reveals that his supposed sympathy is a self-serving sham. For as the first part is devoted to establishing him as a proud, lecherous glutton much given to sloth and wrath, so does the second part reveal his attempts – under duress – to suppress his envy and avarice. Instead of wavering between the "good" and "evil" Pilate, therefore, he is a hypocrite whose moral and psychological tensions enhance the dramatic effectiveness of the play. To ensure the audience's perception of Pilate's character, the play-wright not only illustrates in his actions the seven-point index of evil, but also draws parallels between the prefect, the devil, and the obsequious beadle, evoking for the audience the quite common medieval appraisal of Pilate as neither "good" nor "evil," but as a hypocritical mask.

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