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Everyman: Morality Play Summary

A prologue, read by the Messenger asks the audience to give their attention and announces the purpose of the play, which will show us our lives as well as our deaths (our ending) and how we humans are always (all day) transitory: changing from one state into another. God speaks next, and immediately launches into a criticism of the way that all creatures are not serving Him properly. People are living without dread (fear) in the world without any thought of heaven or hell, or the judgment that will eventually come to them. In worldly riches is all their mind, God says. Everyone is living purely for their own pleasure, but yet they are not at all secure in their lives. God sees everything decaying, and getting worse fro year to year (from year to year) and so has decided to have a reckoning of every mans person. Are they guilty or are they godly should they be going to heaven or hell? God calls in Death, his mighty messenger. People who love wealth and worldly goods will be struck by Deaths dart and will be sent to dwell in hell eternally unless, that is, Alms be his good friend. Alms means good deeds, and it is an important clue even at this stage that good deeds can save a sinner from eternal damnation. God exits, and Death sees Everyman walking along, finely dressed. Death approaches Everyman, and asks him where he is going, and whether he has forgotten his maker (the one who made him). He then tells Everyman that he must take a long journey upon him, and bring with him his book of count (his account book as per Gods reckoning, above) which contains his good and bad deeds. Everyman says that he is unready to make such a reckoning, and is horrified to realize who Death is. Everyman asks Death whether he will have any company to go on the journey from life into death. Death tells him he could have company, if anyone was brave enough to go along with him. Fellowship enters, sees that Everyman is looking sad, and immediately offers to help. When Everyman tells him that he is in great jeopardy, Fellowship pledges not to forsake [Everyman] to my lifes end / in... good company. Everyman describes the journey he is to go on, and Fellowship tells Everyman that nothing would make him go on such a journey. Fellowship departs from Everyman as fast as he can. Kindred and Cousin enter, Everyman appeals to them for company, and they similarly desert him. Everyman next turns to his Goods and richesse to help him, but Goods only tells him that love of Goods is opposite to love of God. Goods too forsakes Everyman and exits. Everyman next turns to his Good Deeds, but she is too weak to accompany him. Good Deeds sister Knowledge accompanies Everyman to Confession, who instructs him to show penance. Everyman scourges himself to atone for his sin. This allows Good Deeds to walk.

More friends Discretion, Strength, Beauty and Five Wits initially claim that they too will accompany Everyman on his journey. Knowledge tells Everyman to go to Priesthood to receive the holy sacrament and extreme unction. Knowledge then makes a speech about priesthood, while Everyman exits to go and receive the sacrament. He asks each of his companions to set their hands on the cross, and go before. One by one, Strength, Discretion, and Knowledge promise never to part from Everymans side. Together, they all journey to Everymans grave. As Everyman begins to die, Beauty, Strength, Discretion and Five Wits all forsake him one after another. Good Deeds speaks up and says that she will not forsake him. Everyman realizes that it is time for him to be gone to make his reckoning and pay his spiritual debts. Yet, he says, there is a lesson to be learned, and speaks the lesson of the play: Take example, all ye that this do hear or see How they that I loved best do forsake me, Except my Good Deeds that bideth truly. Commending his soul into the Lords hands, Everyman disappears into the grave with Good Deeds. An Angel appears with Everymans Book of Reckoning to receive the soul as it rises from the grave. A doctor appears to give the epilogue, in which he tells the hearers to forsake Pride, Beauty, Five Wits, Strength and Discretion all of them forsake every man in the end. Major Themes Transitoriness Life is transitory, and the very opening of the play announces that it will show us "how transitory we be all day" in our lives. The play documents Everyman's journey from sinful life to sin-free, holy death - and its key theme is how we can't take things with us beyond the grave. Life is transitory - always changing, always in transition, always moving towards death. Only heaven or hell is eternal. Sin One way of looking at the play and Everyman's forsaking friends is by grouping them according to the seven deadly sins. It's certainly true that each sin could be found in the play, but sin itself is a wider theme in the play: Everyman has to absolve himself of sin to go to heaven. Death That the play is about death is foregrounded when, early in the play, a personified Death appears at God's summons. Death's role is to bring people to judgment. Though the play

doesn't particularly explore our emotional response to Death, it is important to note that Everyman's pilgrimage is to the grave - and that the whole play is a consideration of what man must do before death. Pilgrimage A pilgrimage is a journey taken to a sacred or religious place, and it has often been noted that Everyman's journey through the play is in some sense itself a pilgrimage: a religious journey taken, ultimately, to heaven. Medieval writers often compared life to a pilgrimage: a transitory journey to an ultimately spiritual goal. Comparisons might also be made with those in holy orders, who, like Everyman, must learn to live without belongings and let go of the things they are attached to in order to progress on a spiritual journey. Worldly Goods Everyman is - notably - deserted by his Goods about halfway through the play, and told that love of Goods is opposite to love of God. For Everyman, who is finely dressed, and whose friend, Fellowship, holds a new robe in high esteem, part of the progression of the play is learning not to be attached to worldly goods, and to focus his attention instead on things with spiritual value. Reckoning and judgement Everyman has to clear his book of reckoning before he can progress to heaven, and one of the things the play considers is how humans will be judged after they have died. God is furious that humans are living a superficial life on earth, focusing on wealth and riches, without worrying about the greater judgment that is to come - and, notably, Everyman's own judgment - his ability to understand his life - becomes gradually more and more enlightened on his pilgrimage towards his heavenly reward. Earthly versus spiritual At the beginning of the play, God is furious that humans are concerning themselves with worldly things and not with their ultimate spiritual judgment - and whether they will dwell in heaven or hell. People are "living without dread in worldly prosperity". The play constantly explores the conflict between worldly concerns, riches, clothes and relationships, and the need to focus on spiritual welfare, heaven and hell and God's judgment. Everyman is the best surviving example of the type of Medieval drama known as the morality play. Moralities evolved side by side with the mystery plays, although they were composed individually and not in cycles. The moralities employed allegory to dramatize the moral struggle Christianity envisions universal in every individual. Everyman, a short play of some 900 lines, portrays a complacent Everyman who is informed by Death of his approaching end. The play shows the hero's progression from

despair and fear of death to a "Christian resignation that is the prelude to redemption." 1 First, Everyman is deserted by his false friends: his casual companions, his kin, and his wealth. He falls back on his Good Deeds, his Strength, his Beauty, his Intelligence, and his Knowledge. These assist him in making his Book of Accounts, but at the end, when he must go to the grave, all desert him save his Good Deeds alone. The play makes its grim point that we can take with us from this world nothing that we have received, only what we have given. The play was written near the end of the fifteenth century. It is probably a translation from a Flemish play, Elckerlijk (or Elckerlyc) first printed in 1495, although there is a possibility that Everyman is the original, the Flemish play the translation. There are four surviving versions of Everyman, two of them fragmentary.