Overview (Masterplots II: Christian Literature)
The anonymous, fifteenth century English morality play Everyman was first published in 1508. It relates through allegory the tale of a dying Everyman and the items and qualities he most values, which attend to him in his death. The play opens with a messenger preparing the way for God, who after an opening meditation commands Death to seek out Everyman and warn him that God sits in judgment of Everyman’s soul. Death approaches Everyman and foretells his demise, telling Everyman that he will now undertake the pilgrimage of the soul and stand before God to be reckoned. Everyman pleads to be released from his journey, even begging for the journey to be delayed if only for a day, but Death reminds Everyman that he comes for all people in their turn. Everyman laments at his fate and attempts to find comfort and companionship for his journey.
First he looks for solace among his friends, allegorized by Fellowship. Initially, Fellowship seems very concerned about Everyman’s grave state and pledges his undying fealty and assistance, but upon discovering that Everyman undertakes the journey to Death, Fellowship abandons Everyman to his own fate. Next, Everyman turns to Cousin and Kindred, believing that familial bonds will prove stronger than those of Fellowship; but, family, too, despite professing their love for and support of Everyman, abandons him in the time of his greatest need. Next, Everyman turns to his own material possessions, his Goods, which Everyman has spent a lifetime amassing....
(The entire section is 620 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
One day a Messenger appears to announce that in the beginning of life, human beings should look to the ending, for they shall see how all earthly possessions avail little in the final reckoning. Sin may look sweet at first, but in the end it causes the soul to weep in pain.
Then God speaks. All living creatures are unkind to him. They live with no spiritual thought in their worldly possessions. The crucifixion is a lesson they forget. Human beings turn to the seven deadly sins, and every year their state grows worse. Therefore, God decides to have a reckoning, lest humankind become more brutish than the beasts.
At an imperative summons, Death comes to receive his instructions. He is ordered to search out all human beings and tell them that they have to make a pilgrimage to their final reckoning. Death promises to be cruel in his search for everyone who lives outside God’s law.
Spying Everyman walking unconcernedly about his business, his mind on fleshly lust and treasure, Death bids him stand still and asks him if he forgot his maker. Death announces that God dispatched him in all haste to warn Everyman. Everyman is to make a long journey, and he is to take with him his full book of accounts. He is to be very careful, for he did many bad deeds and only a few good ones. In Paradise, he will soon be forced to account for his life.
Everyman protests that Death cannot be further from his thoughts. Death, who sets no store by worldly goods or rank, is adamant; whom he summons must obey. Everyman cries in vain for respite. Then he asks if he must go on the long journey alone. Death assures him that he can take any companions who will make the journey with him. Reminding him that his life is only his on loan, Death says he will return very shortly, after allowing Everyman an opportunity to find companions for his journey.
Weeping for his plight and wishing he was never born, Everyman thinks of Fellowship, with whom he spent so many agreeable days in sport and play. Fortunately, he sees Fellowship and speaks to him. Seeing Everyman’s sad countenance, Fellowship asks his trouble. Everyman tells him he is in deep sorrow because he has to make a journey. Fellowship reminds him of their past friendship and vows that he will go anywhere with him, even to Hell. Greatly heartened, Everyman tells him of Death’s appearance and his urgent summons. Fellowship thinks of the long trip from which there will be no return and decides against accompanying Everyman. He will go with him in sport and play, he declares, or to seek lusty women, but he definitely refuses to go on that pilgrimage.
Cast down by this setback, Everyman...
(The entire section is 1095 words.)