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How does the play "Everyman" relate to the doctrines of the medieval church?give...

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vanny-98 | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted September 23, 2010 at 6:24 PM via web

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How does the play "Everyman" relate to the doctrines of the medieval church?give examples from the play that portray the doctrines.

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Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted September 24, 2010 at 12:19 AM (Answer #1)

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The only real action in the play Everymanis directly connected to the medieval Church.  In this allegorical work, each of the characters represents the characteristic of his name (as in Everyman respresenting all mankind, Beauty representing beauty, and so on).  At the beginning of the play, God is discouraged and disappointed by what's happening on earth.  He sent His emissary Death to summon Everyman.  When he does, Everyman is caught by surprise, of course, and claims his account book is not ready.  So, he begs for a little more time.  He is granted a short time in which to get his accounts in order.  As he does so, he asks some of his friends to join him on his imminent journey to the grave.  Such friends as Five-wits (the five senses) and Beauty and Good Deeds each join him for a while; however, eventually, as they get closer and realize the unpleasant and permanent nature of their destination, all of them but Good Deeds drop off and leave Everyman.  At the end of the play, Everyman walks into his grave with his one last companion, Good Deeds.

This is a perfect representation of the beliefs taught by the medieval Church.  It was the most powerful and influential force of the time, and it conveniently taught that the only way to heaven was through the Church. This teaching instilled fear in the hearts of the peasants, as they heard a lot about the horrific nature of hell (which, of course, insured the people's willingness to support the Church).  Tithes of 10% of everything they owned or bought or grew or sold were due to the Church, and records were meticulously kept to ensure compliance.  The Church itself was always the most grand and well built structure in any town, and services were generally delivered, at least in part, the language of the Church but not the people--Latin.  Because most could not read, and few could read Latin, the corrupt and greedy Church was able to "teach" whatever doctrines it wished.  It regularly sold forgiveness (in the form of pardons), but was itself generally not in compliance with its own teachings.   In short, the church was a corrupt, powerful, and avaricious institution which required complete obedience and compliance of its people but not of its own religious men and women.

The connection between Church and Everyman is clear.  The idea of keeping an account book was used by the Church, in order to keep records of appropriate tithing and additional giving to the Church.  All those good deeds--most of which are presumably done for the Church, of course--must be tallied before Everyman can be admitted by the Church into Heaven.  Everyman understood, when Death came calling, that he was not ready and had to do and pay more in order to achieve the goal of eternity with God.  This play, then, is a reflection of the Church's warning to the common people to keep their accounts current by continued giving to the Church. There is truth--that we can take none of our physical or worldy possessions with us when we die--but there is also fear.  Warning:  Do what the Church says now so you don't get caught unprepared by Death like Everyman was.

Lori Steinbach

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