Everyman Analysis

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Everyman Analysis

  • Everyman is an archetype, a character who stands in for a broader group of people. In effect, Everyman represents the average person. The play uses this same technique to personify inanimate objects (in the character of Goods) and abstract concepts (such as Fellowship and Good Deeds).
  • Everyman is a morality play designed to teach its audience a very specific message: that people can only take their good deeds with them into the afterlife.
  • The doctor reiterates the plays didactic purpose at the end: one's actions in life directly correlate to how one will be judged in the afterlife.


(Drama for Students)

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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 individual. The audience understands that Fellowship signifies the friendships than men have while here on earth.

A drama is often defined as any work designed to be presented on the stage. It consists of a story, of actors portraying characters, and of action. But historically, drama can also consist of tragedy, comedy, religious pageant, and spectacle. In modern usage, drama explores serious topics and themes but does not achieve the same level as tragedy. In Everyman, drama is aligned with spectacle and is intended as a mechanism to instruct the audience on how to prepare for death.

Genres are a way of categorizing literature. Genre is a French term that means "kind" or "type." Genre can refer to both the category of literature such as tragedy, comedy, epic, poetry, or pastoral. It can also include modern forms of literature such as drama, novels, or short stories. This term can also refer to types of literature such as mystery, science fiction, comedy, or romance. Everyman is a morality play.

Morality Play
Following the revival of theatre in the eleventh century, the Catholic Church began to introduce brief dramatized episodes into the mass on the occasion of major festivals. These gradually developed into complete plays, performed in public places by the trade guilds, and were known as mystery plays. In some towns, there was a cycle of dramatized stories from the Creation to the Last Judgement. These were succeeded in the fifteenth century by morality plays, allegorical presentations of human vices and virtues in conflict. Among these, Everyman is perhaps the best known.

A parable is a story intended to teach a moral...

(The entire section is 2,758 words.)