At the beginning of the anonymous medieval play, Everyman, written in about 1500, the Messenger tells the audience that Everyman is "a moral play."
A "moral play," or morality play, is an allegory in which the lead character, who often represents humanity, encounters characters who personify various aspects of life and death and good and evil. Through these characters, the lead character—and the audience—are encouraged to live a good and moral life.
After the Messenger's introduction to the play, God appears and complains that mankind has been ignoring him.
GOD: Drowned in sin, they know me not for their God;
In worldly riches is all their mind.
God then speaks in the role of Jesus Christ, and He recounts how the crown of thorns was put on His head and how He died on the cross for mankind's sins. But now, mankind forsakes Him and indulges "in the seven deadly sins damnable" and "liveth so after his own pleasure."
The scene is set. God decides to call mankind to a reckoning. God summons Death to bring Everyman to Him, along with whatever Everyman can show Him that will allow Everyman to enter into Heaven.
Death sees Everyman going about his daily life, totally unaware of Death's approach. Everyman's mind "is on fleshly lusts and his treasure."
Death first tells Everyman that he's sent from God and that Everyman must go on a journey to find those things that can answer to God for his life. Everyman is surprised and protests that he's been caught unawares, "This blind matter troubleth my wit," and he needs more time "To give a reckoning longer leisure I crave," because he's simply not ready: "Full unready I am such reckoning to give."
Everyman realizes that doesn't know with whom he's been talking, and he asks the stranger who he is.
DEATH. I am Death, that no man dreadeth.
For every man I rest and no man spareth;
For it is God's commandment
That all to me should be obedient.
Everyman is totally taken aback.
EVERYMAN. O Death, thou comest when I had thee least in mind.
Very few people expect death to come to them in the midst of their daily lives, so Everyman's surprise at Death's arrival is perfectly reasonable and realistic.
Equally realistic is Everyman's attempt to bribe Death into going away and coming back some other time.
EVERYMAN: 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.
Death says he can't be bought and that there's nothing Everyman can do to escape his reckoning before God.
Everyman goes through the first four stages of grief and loss proposed by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross a half-century later in her 1969 book, On Death and Dying—denial, anger, bargaining, and depression.
Death remains unmoved by any of Everyman's reactions and tells Everyman to prepare to meet God.
DEATH. Nay, thereto I will not consent,
Nor no man will I respite,
But to the heart suddenly I shall smite
Without any advisement.
And now out of thy sight I will me hie;
See thou make thee ready shortly,
For thou mayst say this is the day
That no man living may scape away.
In time, Everyman reaches the fifth Kubler-Ross stage—acceptance—and he reluctantly begins his journey to find those things that he can take with him to God to account for his life.