How might one compare and contrast the settings of the Everyman play and the Second Shepherd's Play. How important (or not) are the settings to each play's purpose?

Expert Answers
vangoghfan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Setting is a much more significant factor in The Second Shepherd’s Play than it is in Everyman. The Second Shepherd’s Play, after all, opens by emphasizing a cold, wintry, night-time setting (“Lord, what these weathers are cold”). The playwright clearly wants to stress the physical suffering of the shepherds – suffering that parallels their mental pains, as when Coll says,

. . . I am lapped

In sorrow:

In storms and tempest,

Now in the east, now in the west,

Woe is him that he never rest

Midday nor morrow. (8-13)

Just within the first thirty lines of this play, setting is emphasized repeatedly, as in the references to “the moor” (15), being “Out of door” (17), “the tilth of our lands” (20), “the plow” (30). The Second Shepherd’s Play takes place in a setting that is clearly meant to suggest the England of the playwright’s own day.  Contemporary social tensions are mentioned (27-39), and even the names of the shepherds are those of typical English peasants. Later, of course, these very English-sounding peasants find themselves visiting the Christ child in Bethlehem, but even in that section of the play the setting somehow seems more English than middle eastern.

Setting is much less important in Everyman than in The Second Shepherd’s Play. The focus in the former play is on human life in general, not so much the human lives of English people in particular. Everyman, as his name suggestes, represents all mankind. His encounters with Death and with the other allegorical figures he meets take place in settings that are rarely specified. There is little emphasis in this play on suggesting “local color,” as there is in The Second Shepherd’s Play. Admittedly, Everyman does at one point refer to leaving “the town” (291), but this reference, like most of the references to places in this play, is rather general and non-specific. Only at the very end of the play, when Everyman enters the grave, is a specific setting stressed very strongly, and even that setting seems far more abstract and symbolic than the kinds of settings one finds in The Second Shepherd’s Play. Everyman is ultimately more concerned with the afterlife than with life on earth; the latter is far less important than the former, and so it is not surprising that in Everyman earthly settings are far less significant than the spiritual journey Everyman must undertake.