What happens in Everyman?

  • Everyman recounts the life and death of Everyman, an allegorical figure who represents all of humanity. At the beginning of the play, God orders Death to visit Everyman and to warn him that he will be judged by God himself.
  • Terrified, Everyman turns to Fellowship. His friends soon desert him, however. Everyman then turns to Cousin and Kindred, but they, too, leave him to face death alone, without the support of his family or his friends.
  • Everyman hopes that his Goods will comfort him on his journey to the afterlife. One by one, however, his material possessions fall away, and the desperate Everyman calls on his Good Deeds to accompany him. Weakened by Everyman's sins, Good Deeds cannot rise out of the dirt.
  • Everyman calls on Knowledge to help him. Knowledge advises him to confess his sins to strengthen his Good Deeds. With the help of Beauty, Strength, Discretion, and Five Wits, Everyman approaches the Gates of Heaven. He then learns that only his Good Deeds will come with him. He is judged by his actions alone.

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Summary

(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

The anonymous, fifteenth century English morality play Everyman was first published in 1508. It relates through allegory the tale of a dying Everyman and the items and qualities he most values, which attend to him in his death. The play opens with a messenger preparing the way for God, who after an opening meditation commands Death to seek out Everyman and warn him that God sits in judgment of Everyman’s soul. Death approaches Everyman and foretells his demise, telling Everyman that he will now undertake the pilgrimage of the soul and stand before God to be reckoned. Everyman pleads to be released from his journey, even begging for the journey to be delayed if only for a day, but Death reminds Everyman that he comes for all people in their turn. Everyman laments at his fate and attempts to find comfort and companionship for his journey.

First he looks for solace among his friends, allegorized by Fellowship. Initially, Fellowship seems very concerned about Everyman’s grave state and pledges his undying fealty and assistance, but upon discovering that Everyman undertakes the journey to Death, Fellowship abandons Everyman to his own fate. Next, Everyman turns to Cousin and Kindred, believing that familial bonds will prove stronger than those of Fellowship; but, family, too, despite professing their love for and support of Everyman, abandons him in the time of his greatest need. Next, Everyman turns to his own material possessions, his Goods, which Everyman has spent a lifetime amassing. Everyman believes that his Goods will accompany him on his pilgrimage to judgment, but his Goods, too, forsake Everyman, leaving the lamentable figure wailing over his fate.

Now, in his moment of greatest despair, Everyman considers his own good deeds. Calling for his Good Deeds, Everyman can hear only a weak and faint reply, since his Good Deeds are but small in comparison to Everyman’s sins. Nonetheless, Good Deeds advises Everyman to...

(The entire section is 2,350 words.)