My Name is Worship’: Masquerading Vice in Medwall’s Nature
Although the first known example of masquerading vice in a morality play appears in Henry Medwall’s Nature (c. 1500), the device itself has a long literary history, including Prudentius’s Psychomachia and Langland’s Piers Plowman. Throughout Piers “the Will’s search for ‘truth’ is linked with a nearly unbroken succession of ambiguous sins; and in the final apocalyptic scene, a reprise of the Psychomachia itself, the triumph of the deceitful vices is built on the failure of penitence. . . . Contrition is no longer contrite. Like masquerading vice itself, he is now a nomen sine re, the last and most fateful in a long succession of empty signifiers in the poem” (169-70).