What is the inciting incident, events of rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution, examples in the play Everyman?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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;

leospengler eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Excellent question! Everyman, a fifteenth-century morality play, is an allegorical narrative about Everyman's endeavor to prepare for God's judgement. I have composed a simple overview of the play's plot below.

Inciting Incident (The problem that begins the action of the play): Humans become too greedy and immoral. This upsets Gods, and he commands Death to summon Everyman for judgement in heaven.

Events of Rising Action (The protagonist's attempts to resolve the inciting incident):

1. Death informs Everyman that he must die and face God’s judgement.

2. Everyman calls on Fellowship to accompany him, but Fellowship refuses his call.

3. Everyman calls on Kindred and Cousin to accompany him, but they refuse his call as well.

4. Everyman calls on Goods, but Goods refuses to go, claiming that God’s judgement will be more severe if he accompanies Everyman.

5. Everyman calls on Good Deeds, who says she will go but is very weak; she calls on her sister, Knowledge, and they go to see Confession.

6. When Everyman reaches Confession, he begs God for forgiveness.

7. God punishes Everyman but absolves him of his sins.

8. Good Deeds summons Beauty, Strength, Discretion, and the Five Wits to accompany them.

Climax (the point of most suspense): Everyman informs the group that he is going to meet Death. Everyone abandons him except for Good Deeds.

Falling Action (the protagonist's actions subsequent the climax):

1. Everyman lies in his grave with Good Deeds and dies.

2. An Angel welcomes Everyman into heaven.

Resolution (how the inciting incident is resolved): The Doctor says that when we die, God considers only our good deeds in his judgement.

I hope this helped, and please check out the eNotes guide to this classic, didactic tale below!