Reading a book called The medieval heritage of Elizabethan tragedy
(1936), by William Farnham, I noticed a description of a play that seemed to be modeled on the chess pieces, as in Echecs moralise
. Here is the paragraph, from Chapter 5, "The English Morality Play," pp. 181-182:
As it happens, the first extant English morality, a fragmentary play known as The Pride of Life (ca. 1400), has the coming of Death as its dominant theme. Though Death does not actually appear in the opening part of the drama, which is preserved to us, we know that he did appear in the complete drama, because a summary of the action is given in the prologue. At the opening of that action we find the King of Life living "in pride and likinge." In the sufficiency of his power he takes boasting delight. His faithful supporters and companions are his knights, Strength and Health, and his messenger, Mirth. He also has for Queen a beautiful lady. With her beauty the Queen unites wisdom, and she warns him that he must think upon his ending, must live well in order to die well, for Death will surely come to him. Death spares neither knight, nor kaiser, nor king. Let him leave pleasure, she pleads, and save his soul. He calls all this an old wives' tale. The Queen sends for the Bishop, who adds preaching to wifely petition. Bishops should preach in church, says the King; and he sends his messenger, Mirth, to proclaim that he dare fight with anyone, even Death. (At this point the fragment ends, and we must complete the story by means of the prologue.) Death in turn sends his messenger to the King of Life to say that he will come to try his might. Death does strive with the King of Life and deals him a deep death-wound. Then, when the King's soul leaves his body, it knows great sorrow and is caught by the fiends. but Our Lady will pray to her son for the soul's release.
It seems to me that the Bishop and Rook on the other color square from the King (presumably black) could be Death and his messenger, with the other Rook as Mirth. The other pieces are self-explanatory, except the Lady at the end, who is simply the Queen after the game is over. The Queen seems to be the weakest piece, but also the most enduring. I don't know what relation this story would have to actual chess at this time, probably not much else.