Compare and contrast the common theme in Everyman to Chaucer's "The Pardoner's Tale."

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rmhope eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The medieval morality play Everyman and Chaucer's "The Pardoner's Tale" have some similarities with regard to theme, but also have distinctions. Both plays focus on the inevitability of death and the futility of riches to help one in the afterlife. In the opening of Everyman, Everyman is enjoying his life and his riches, taking no thought of God or eternity. He learns he must give an account to his Maker and begins a quest to find someone to go with him to help him plead his case. He repents and embraces the teachings of the church, and he finds joy in Heaven. In "The Pardoner's Tale," the three rioters are drinking in a tavern and go on a quest to find and kill Death. On their way, they find treasure and end up killing each other because of greed. 

Both stories emphasize the truth that death faces all men. In the first lines of Everyman delivered by the Messenger, the Messenger states that the play will show life is not man's to keep and that man must live his life remembering that the end will come. In "The Pardoner's Tale," Death is personified, and the three rioters who seek to kill death are obviously bound to fail, as they do. 

Both stories also emphasize the futility of riches. Everyman learns that Goods will not follow him to heaven and will not plead for him before his Maker. The three rioters find that money, far from helping them in their quest to slay Death, actually brings their deaths upon them.

The two stories emphasize different points, though. Everyman seeks to explain how to get to Heaven, and Everyman learns what he must do to clear his account in God's eyes. It is meant to be a teaching tool for the Church to proclaim its doctrine of salvation. On the other hand, the Pardoner takes pains to explain that the moral of his story is that "the love of money is the root of all evil." The Pardoner is trying to sell pardons from the Pope, and if he can convince his listeners that their money is poison, that will result in more collections for him. 

The stories have similar themes, but their different purposes lead to different emphases.