What are the principal allegorical figures in Everyman? What does each stand for?

The principal figures in Everyman represent different groups of people and spiritual concepts. The story is a Christian allegory, so the characters represent different parts of Christian spirituality and theology.

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Everymanis a Christian allegory about how to attain salvation. An allegory is a story where the characters and plot are meant to represent a broader concept or issue in the real world. As a result, the characters in this play represent bigger concepts or collective groups of people. Here...

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Everyman is a Christian allegory about how to attain salvation. An allegory is a story where the characters and plot are meant to represent a broader concept or issue in the real world. As a result, the characters in this play represent bigger concepts or collective groups of people. Here are the major figures in the play and what they are meant to represent:

Everyman represents the human individual. Like everybody, he faces temptations and trials on the path of life. After death, he will only be able to take his good deeds with him when he is to be judged by God.

Good Deeds is personified in this allegory. Initially weakened by Everyman's sins, once Everyman receives the sacrament of confession, his own Good Deeds are strengthened. Now that Everyman is freed of sin, Good Deeds shines forth all the brighter. It shows Everyman's spiritual merits and goodness.

Death represents the ultimate fate of all mankind. He is not presented as evil, but as a servant of God. He comes when least expected. Death is different from the Devil in this story.

Fellowship, Cousin, and Kindred are three characters who represent human relationships. However, they fail Everyman once he needs to go on a journey. Fellowship is only interested in having a good time, and Cousin and Kindred make excuses. These characters represent how in the end, one dies alone and cannot rely upon others when it comes to matters of the soul. According to the theology of the play, only God and the Church can provide such support.

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As a Medieval morality play, Everyman is a very literal presentation of what every individual experiences throughout the course of their life, including the difficult decisions, troublesome relationships, and divine judgment at the end of all of it. Because it is meant to be taken at face value, the names of the characters are meant to be as clear as possible.

Everyman is Every Man, and when he is called before God, the play is telling its audience that every individual will find themselves in the same position one day, giving an account of their life.

The Messenger gives a message to the audience from the playwright (or perhaps from God himself?). He is simply the narrator of the play and serves to set the scene for the viewer.

God (the Christian God) serves to give a presentation of the Gospel message at the start of the play, and to address man’s sinful nature and his tendency to turn away from that message.

Death is literally death, whom God commands. Everyman remarks that Death came for him when he was least expecting it—a warning to the wayward in the audience!

Fellowship is earthly friendship, which promises much but in reality offers little. Fellowship claims he is willing to go the distance with Everyman, but once he knows the actual cost, he takes back his promise.

Those are just the first five characters. As you read through the remainder of Everyman, consider the name a literal representation of the character you encounter. What they are meant to say to the audience is right there on the surface, and as this is a medieval morality play, it’s important to remember that the end goal will always be a Christian moral message, encouraging its audience to remember the Lord their God, and repent before Death comes to them as well. Remember also that this is from a Catholic perspective, as this was written before the Protestant Reformation.

The rest of the characters are:

  • Cousin

  • Kindred

  • Goods

  • Good-Deeds

  • Strength

  • Discretion

  • Five-Wits

  • Beauty

  • Knowledge

  • Confession

  • Angel

  • Doctor

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The allegorical characters in Everyman are easy to discern because they are named for what they represent. 

Everyman represents the typical human being who must face death. 

Fellowship represents false friends—those who forsake a person when his death nears. In fact, this doesn't diminish the value of friends. Each person must face death alone, without his friends.

Kindred and Cousin, like Fellowship, are the people closest to the person who must face death. Again, they cannot come along or make the journey easier.

Goods represents the material possessions and wealth a person accumulates during his life. Although they make the days on earth more comfortable, possessions do nothing to help one in the afterlife. They will not go through death with their owner.

Good-deeds is one of the only characters who changes for the better in the play. He represents the good works a person does during his lifetime. When Everyman first invites him to go with him to death, Good-deeds cannot go because he is so weakened by Everyman's sin. He introduces Everyman to Knowledge, who takes him to Confession. After Everyman goes to Confession and does penance, Good-deeds is strengthened and can then accompany Everyman to death. This shows a man's good deeds can be outweighed by sin and only confession and penance will let the good deeds be counted as worthy. Good-deeds accompanies Everyman to the grave, and Knowledge hears singing, suggesting that in the afterlife, one's good deeds will assure him admission to Heaven.

Confession represents the Church teaching on confessing sins and doing penance. 

Five-Wits represents man's reason and points Everyman to the priest and the sacrament of Holy Communion, which purges a man from sin.

Knowledge represents spiritual knowledge. Unlike Beauty, Strength, and Discretion, gifts or virtues that flee as death nears, knowledge stays with the person right until he or she passes into the next life. 

God, is, of course, the Supreme Being who controls the eternal fate of each human. Death is the personification of leaving life and entering the afterlife. 

This morality play, through its allegorical characters, teaches the doctrines of the Catholic Church regarding salvation and the afterlife.

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"Everyman" is a morality play about salvation; the original play was medieval. It is an allegorical drama written to teach Christians how to live their lives in order to save their souls.

Each of the principal allegorical figures stands for an element of life: Everyman represents any common man, Death is God's messenger, Kindred is family and companions, Fellowship represnts Everyman's friends, Worldly Goods represent materials or items that eventually become meaningless, Good Deeds are those that stay with you into death and Beauty is a quality that fades with time and age.

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