Everyman Summary

Everyman is a medieval morality play which details the life and death of the allegorical Everyman, who embodies all of humanity.

  • Death warns Everyman that he will be judged by God when he dies.
  • Terrified, Everyman turns to Fellowship, but his friends desert him. Everyman then hopes that Goods will comfort him, but Goods also abandons him.
  • Everyman then turns to Good-Deeds, but she has been weakened by his sins.
  • Everyman eventually arrives in heaven with the help of his other attributes, but he learns that only Good-Deeds will come with him. He will be judged by his actions alone.

Summary

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Last Updated September 6, 2023.

The Messenger begins by explaining the message of the play: that mortal life is transitory and that sin, which initially seems sweet, eventually causes only suffering. Fellowship, Jollity, Strength, Pleasure, and Beauty cannot survive Death. God then appears and laments that mankind, beguiled by sin and loving only wealth, neglects his worship and the sacrifice he made for them. He decides to have a “reckoning” to call people to account for the way they have been living and orders Death to summon Everyman to him for judgment.

Death comes to Everyman and demands a reckoning from him. Everyman first tries to bribe Death to allow him to live, but Death cares nothing for money. Then Everyman asks Death for more time to prepare himself, a request which Death also refuses. However, Death says that he will permit Everyman to bring a companion, if he can find anyone willing to come on his final journey with him.

Everyman seeks out his friend Fellowship, who initially says that he will do whatever it takes to help him. However, when Everyman reveals the nature of his journey, which will doom Fellowship to Death along with him, Fellowship declines to join him. Everyman concludes that friendship is not strong enough to help him in this extreme situation and that he must put his faith in the closer bonds of family. He therefore asks Kindred and Cousin to come with him on his journey, but they also refuse.

Everyman reflects that, since he has always cared for wealth and possessions, he should seek help from Goods, who claims to be able to assist him in any adversity. However, when he discovers Everyman’s situation, Goods tells him that if he were to try to accompany Everyman, he would only make matters worse. He reveals that it is Everyman’s excessive love for Goods that has been leading him away from God. Everyman thought that he was the owner of Goods, whereas in fact, it is Goods who has stolen Everyman’s soul. Even knowing all this, Everyman persists in asking Goods to come with him, but Goods abruptly refuses and departs.

Everyman bemoans his fate and wonders whom he can trust. He seeks out Good-Deeds but finds that she is too weak even to stand, let alone go on a journey with him. Good-Deeds tells Everyman that she has grown too feeble to walk because of his neglect. However, her sister, Knowledge, will be able to accompany him. Everyman gives thanks to God and starts off on his journey with Knowledge, who leads him to a holy man called Confession. Everyman kneels before Confession and asks him to absolve his sins so that he can present his reckoning to God.

Confession gives Everyman a jewel called penance and a scourge, or whip, with which to mortify his body. He tells Everyman that repentance will be a painful process but that he must remember the pain Christ suffered to bring about his redemption. Everyman prays for forgiveness and scourges himself. This repentance heals Good-Deeds, who comes to Everyman and informs him that she is now strong enough to accompany him. Knowledge tells Everyman to rejoice and gives him a “garment of sorrow” with which to show his contrition before God.

Good-Deeds says that before Everyman continues on his journey, he must have Discretion, Strength, and Beauty to help him. Knowledge adds that he will also need the advice of Five-Wits. Everyman calls them all together, and they agree to join him. He then goes to receive the holy sacrament and unction from a priest, whereupon Five-Wits makes a speech about the power and holiness of priests, to whom he says God has given greater authority than to the angels. Knowledge points out that there are sinful priests who set a bad example to sinners, and Five-Wits responds that he hopes their party will not encounter any priests of this type. Everyman then returns, having received the last rites.

As they journey onward, Everyman grows weaker and is soon unable to stand. Beauty decides to leave him and is quickly followed by Strength, then Discretion, and finally Five-Wits. Good-Deeds, however, promises to stay with Everyman as he presents his reckoning to God, though Knowledge says that she will do so only until the moment of his death. She cannot accompany him beyond the grave.

Everyman begs God for mercy, and his soul leaves his body. Good-Deeds goes with him, while Knowledge stays on earth. An angel appears and announces that Everyman has been accepted into heaven since his “reckoning is crystal-clear.” Finally, a doctor addresses the audience, telling them that everyone must face the judgment of God alone except for Good-Deeds. Those who face God without a sound reckoning will be damned to hell, but those whose reckoning is clear will be crowned in heaven, where their souls will be united with their bodies.

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