How might one compare and contrast Everyman and Doctor Faustus as morality plays?

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vangoghfan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The anonymous work known as Everyman and the play by Christopher Marlowe titled Doctor Faustus are both “morality plays” in the simplest sense, since both attempt to teach moral, Christian lessons.  Everyman is a “morality play” in the strictest sense of the term; Doctor Faustus is not, if only because it was written for a permanent public theater.  Other similarities and differences between the two works include the following:

  • Like most medieval morality plays, Everyman is anonymous, whereas the author of Doctor Faustus was well known in his time and actually courted publicity.
  • Both plays begin with speeches made directly to their audiences, and both plays end in the same fashion. Yet Everyman  ends happily, whereas Faustus does not.
  • Both plays focus on a central character whose life and flaws are offered as examples of how not to live.  Of course, by the end of Everyman, the title character has become an exemplary figure in the most positive sense of that adjective, whereas Faustus remains, throughout his play, a character whose example we are meant to reject.
  • The characters in Everyman are allegorical and representative, as even their names suggest.  They symbolize ideas or kinds of persons. The characters in Faustus, however, are for the most part meant to be seen as much more realistic individuals.
  • God appears onstage in Everyman; by Marlowe’s day, such an appearance would have been considered sacrilegious.
  • Comedy is used in both plays to counterpoint (but also enhance) the essentially serious message of each work.
  • Both Everyman and Faustus wish that they had never been born.
  • Both Everyman and Faustus have opportunities to repent, but Faustus never takes advantage of such chances.
  • Both Everyman and Faustus come into contact with figures who try to help them, but Faustus rejects such help while Everyman accepts it.
  • Everyman seems a far more wise and thoughtful character at the end of his play than he had been at the beginning. Faustus, at the end of his play, is, if anything, even more foolish than he had been at the start.
  • Everyman seems a far more abstract and representative figure than Faustus, who is much more strongly individualized.
  • Everyman emphasizes the importance of salvation through the persons, rituals, and other methods associated with the church, such as priests and confession.  Faustus, at least in the final scene, seems to emphasize the possibility of salvation through a direct, personal relationship with Jesus, as when Faustus exclaims,

See, see where Christ’s blood streams in the firmament!

Ah, rend not my heart for naming of my Christ;

Yet I will call on him – O spare me, Lucifer!

The irony of Faustus’s final four words here is that rather than calling on Christ, he calls on Lucifer. Yet the play strongly suggests that if he had called on Christ he could have been saved. In Everyman, salvation is accomplished through the means prescribed by the Roman Catholic Church, whereas Faustus seems to reflect more a Protestant idea of salvation, with no need for a priestly mediator.