I am probably the only person you know who has read (or skimmed) all the English plays written between 1400 and 1590 – and then proceeded to forget them. The Vice was a comic character from very early on, often dressed as a kind of village boob with firecrackers on his tale. In some ways, he may have been taken less seriously in an age when Christianity was all. I can''t think of many plays when he was a real social threat – partly because he is generally a total relativist (a la Mephistophiles), but certainly characters who surrounded him in such plays and later characters who could be said to derive from him in plays after 1585 represented real social dangers. The vice had disappeared by then.
The type certainly antedated the development of commedia d'ell arte, which, to generalize, derives from the plays of Plautus and later Greek comedy. I never heard of a female vice, although there were lots of women in medieval plays, many treated as butts of jokes – like Mak's drunken wife in The Second Shepherd's Play and the wife of the Second Shepherd, who complains: "Oh, what a horrible, horrible wife;/ It's nagging, complaining for all of my life;/ But though my lot's bad, I've got one consolation:/ We live long before Women's Liberation." (A VERY rough translation from the original).
Your talk of the whore with the heart of gold reminded me of that wonderful old Korean movie, starring Melina Kim Park, about a heart-of-gold whore who refuses to carry on her business in the back seat of a Korean car: "Never in Hyundai."
Book Note: Ticket to Childhood
13 hours ago