Christian Themes (Masterplots II: Christian Literature)
Everyman reflects the strongly Catholic ideal that only through one’s good deeds can the Kingdom of Heaven be attained. Its populist message and colorful, emotional stage presence made it a very successful and admired work in its time.
The play is told through allegory, which creates characters of those aspects of Everyman’s life that he deems most important. Although Everyman is rejected by Fellowship, Cousin, Kindred, and Goods, the play does not deem these relationships irrelevant or antithetical to a good Christian existence. Indeed, Fellowship, Cousin, and Kindred are all sympathetic figures; though they abandon Everyman as his death looms, this desertion is as much part of the natural process and reality of death as it is a reflection of every person’s fear of their own mortality. (Goods represents the shallower, more materialistic side of Everyman and is thus depicted in a worse light than the other figures in the play.)
While Everyman does not decry the relationships the protagonist has with his fellow human beings, the play demonstrates that it is the relationships within one’s self and with God that are most important and lead to the road of salvation. Interestingly, Everyman’s path to judgment comes not through the justification of faith, a later, more Protestant ideal, but rather through the strength of his Good Deeds and the sincerity of his confession, a staunchly Catholic notion proper for the time the play was composed.
The loss of Everyman’s more personal characteristics, including his Beauty, Strength, Discretion, and Five Wits, reflects the process of aging in human beings. They—physical appearance and health—flee when confronted with old age and death. Even Knowledge abandons Everyman, although it is his knowledge of confession and, ultimately, of God that opens the path toward Everyman’s salvation.
Everyman reminds the audience of the path to God according to the medieval Catholic Church. The allegorical tale turns every member of the audience into the protagonist, crossing boundaries of class and gender, to prove that all men are equal when they stand in judgment before God and that only an individual’s good deeds matter on the journey to salvation.