The medieval play Everyman, like all morality plays, has in its archetypal characters the intention of instruction. Certainly, in its didacticism, it has taught, not only the illiterate people of its day, but many a future playwright and author, among them the great Christopher Marlowe, who composed his Dr.Faustus after Everyman.
Here, then, is an outline of the plot to this forerunner of English literature:
- Inciting incident - God sees that man does not obey His laws and "dreadeth not folly," so he sends Death to speak with Everyman. When Death arrives, Everyman seeks to delay him:
In thy power it lieth me to save,
Yet of my good will I give thee, if ye will be kind,
Yea, a thousand pound shalt thou have
And defer this matter till another day.
- Rising action - Everyman learns that he must make a long journey with Death and give an accounting before God. On this journey, Everyman seeks the accompaniment of others, allegorized first by Fellowship; however, when Fellowship learns that the final destination is Death, he abandons Everyman. Then, thinking that his relatives will feel a stronger bond, Everyman calls upon Cousin and Kindred, only to have them abandon him, as well. In desperation, Everyman looks to his material possessions, or Goods. Yet, these things provide him little solace, telling him that they can only help him with worldly matters,
Nay, Everyman, I sing another song,
I follow no man in such voyages;
In despair, Everyman considers his good deeds, which are small. For, when he calls Good Deeds, he hears only a weak and pitiful voice respond.
- Climax - In his crisis, Everyman makes an accounting of what he has done with the aid of Knowledge and Good Deeds, who urge him to solicit his other attributes, Strength, Beauty, Discretion, and the Five Wits. Nevertheless, all these attributes abandon Everyman and he is left in solitude with only Good Deeds. Even Knowledge advises Everyman that he must depart from Everyman in his final hours.
- Falling Action - Everyman, thus, suffers in his life; however, he makes an honest confession, and Doctor, an archetype of Theological Wisdom, comes on stage and affirms that if a man performs enough good deeds he will enter the kingdom of heaven.
- Resolution - The play suggests a means to salvation as Everyman can enter the kingdom of heaven by performing good deeds. Moreover, even if his good deals be [subjunctive form of verb] insufficient; should he make [subjunctive form] an honest accounting of his life, God will give everyone an opportunity to enter Heaven. Wisdom closes the play with this admonishment,
If his reckoning be not clear when he do come,
God will say- ite maledicti in ignem aeternum.
And he that hath his account whole and sound,
High in heaven he shall be crowned;