Everyman Analysis

  • Everyman is an archetype, a character who stands in for every other man or person like him. In effect, Everyman personifies the idea of what the average person is like. The play uses this same technique to personify inanimate objects (in the character of Goods) and abstract concepts (such as Fellowship and Kindred). By using personification, the play allows individual characters to stand in for broader ideas.
  • Everyman is a morality play designed to teach its audience a very specific message: that we can only take our good deeds with us into the afterlife. At the end of the play, a character called the Doctor comes on stage to deliver this exact message to the audience, further cementing the lesson that Everyman learned during the play.
  • Themes of life, death, and religion intertwine in Everyman. The primary lesson of the play is that one's actions in life directly correlate to how one will be judged in the afterlife. Sins and good deeds follow one after death, whereas material possessions fall away. This is in keeping with Christian theology, but the play itself endeavors to impart a universal lesson not limited to Christians.


A scene from a production staged by the Royal Shakespeare Company Published by Gale Cengage

The word archetype is generally used to describe a character who represents a pattern from which all characters or "types" are derived. The term derives from the work of Carl Jung, who expressed the theory that behind every unconscious lies the collective memories of the past. In literature, the term is often applied to a character type or plot pattern that occurs frequently and is easily recognized. In Everyman, Death is such a character, and the audience would immediately recognize this character and his purpose in the plot.

Authors usually write with an audience in mind. Certainly the unknown author of Everyman intended this drama to instruct the audience. Since few people were literate, a medieval writer could use drama to tell a story or teach a moral. The lesson in this play is how to lead a proper religious life and prepare for death and God's judgement.

The actions of each character are what constitute the story. Character can also include the idea of a particular individual's morality. Characters can range from simple stereotypical figures to more complex multi-faceted ones. Characters may also be defined by personality traits, such as the rogue or the damsel in distress. Characterization is the process of creating a life-like person from an author's imagination. To accomplish this the author provides the character with personality traits that help define who he will be and how he will behave in a given situation.

Everyman differs slightly from this definition, since each character is little more than a "type." The audience does not really know or understand the character as an individual. For instance, Fellowship represents little more than a quality, not an...

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