Everyman: A morality play





Everyman: A morality play

The Summoning of Everyman (popularly called Everyman) is an English morality play written in the late fifteenth century by an unknown person. The play explores the concept of redemption within a Christian concept, by looking at the things that people need to do to attain salvation. The main idea in the play is that upon death, God will judge people by weighing up their good deeds against their bad deeds. To look at these issues, the play uses allegorical characters such as Fellowship (representing friendship), Kindred (alluding to family) and Everyman (representative of the average person) to symbolize the different kinds of people and relations that a person has on Earth. Similarly, characters such as Knowledge, Beauty and Good Deeds refer to the values that a person has while on Earth. Everyman is an intriguing play that assesses critical issues about salvation and the true value of life on Earth.

The play starts with God lamenting the human race for having forgotten him, choosing instead to focus on worldly possessions and pleasures. As a solution to this, God summons Death and sends him to Earth so he can take Everyman to heaven for judgment. Death goes to Earth and confronts Everymen, informing him that it is time for him to die. At first, Everyman tries to put this off by bribing Death but this fails and he is resigned to his fate. Everyman then decides to find a companion who will accompany him in Death. Everyman approaches Fellowship, Kindred, Cousin, Knowledge, Beauty and Material Goods, but they all refuse. The only person who agrees to go with him is Good Deeds. Before leaving, Everyman confesses his sins and for this, he attains penance, a jewel that increases the weight of his Good Deeds. After confessing, Everyman and Good Deeds die and go to heaven, where an Angel welcomes them.

The play Everyman uses different themes to address the issues key issues relating to Christian salvation. Using the theme of earthly pleasures, the play addresses the value of worldly relations, possessions and attributes. Everyman addresses this issue by looking at the things that the titular character will be able to take with him to heaven when he dies. The first worldly thing that Everyman tries to take is Fellowship (a character that represents people’s friends). Fellowship refuses to go with Everyman and later on, Kindred and Cousin (both alluding to a person’s family) refuse to go. However, Cousin explains that he needs to get his account in order and this makes Everyman understand the reason why other people will not go with him. Everyman then calls onto other companions such as Beauty and Material Goods, but they all refuse to accompany him. Following these rejections, Everyman realises that most of the people he lived with and things that he cared about while on Earth are of no use to him now that he is about to die and needs them the most. By showing this, the play sends a message about how meaningless earthly pleasures and possessions are when a person is faced with death and final judgment.

Another theme that the play uses to address critical issues is death. The play presents Death as a messenger sent to do God’s bidding. In this specific case, Death summons Everyman for his final judgment in heaven. One thing that the play shows is that Death is indiscriminate in his reach. After God sends him, Death says “Lord, I will in the world go run over all/ and cruelly outsearch both great and small,” (Everyman Ln. 73-74).Death’s great power is seen in the way that Everyman’s wealth is not able to overpower the former. This shows that against some powers, earthly riches and values are weak and meaningless. Similarly, other characters are unable to follow Everyman because they fear Death. The only things that can follow Everyman to the graves are his good deeds and they are not heavy enough to help him in heaven. Through salvation, Everyman is able strengthen his good deeds and it is only then that he is prepared to die.

To address certain critical issues, Everyman also uses different allegorical characters. Each of the characters in the play symbolizes an aspect of real life. Everyman, Fellowship and Kindred allude to the average person, friends and family, respectively. Beauty, Material Goods, Good Deeds, Knowledge, Strength and Discretion are characters symbolizing different attributes and values that people have. When Everyman was summoned to heaven, he did not want to go alone and so he called on the different characters to go with him. However, none of the characters was willing to accompany him for a range of different reasons. Some, such as Cousin, explained that they had their own preparation to do and were not ready to die. Material Goods explained that he did not want to go in fear of making things worse for Everyman. The rejections that Everyman suffered from the different characters showed that earthly relations, pleasures and attributes are of no use to a person once they die. By showing that Good Deeds was the only companion willing to accompany Everyman, the play shows that there is not a lot of value to be found in the different pleasures and values of life.

Everyman offers a deep look into Christian salvation and penance. The play uses Death to force the titular character to look into the values and relations that he holds dear on this Earth and scrutinize them. Following this scrutiny, Everyman realizes that when faced with death, all of his worldly relations, possessions and values are meaningless. The only things that are of value are the good deeds that he did on Earth. Through this analysis, the play shows the importance of living virtuous lives and of salvation. In the end, the true value of worldly possessions is revealed, along with the importance of seeking penance.


Work Cited

Everyman, and Other Miracle and Morality Plays. New York: Dover Publications, 1995. Print.



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