Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated September 6, 2023.

I set not by gold, silver nor, riches,Ne by pope, emperor, king, duke, ne princes.For and I would receive gifts great,All the world I might get;But my custom is clean contrary.I give thee no respite: come hence, and not tarry.

These lines are spoken by Death when Everyman offers him a bribe of a thousand pounds to defer his death and reckoning until another day. Death emphasizes his point strongly, giving three examples of wealth in the first line and five examples of earthly potentates, including the pope, in the second. No one, not even the head of the church, can avert death. The fact that the pope is grouped with secular leaders may be taken as an implied criticism and reminds the reader that, though the play precedes the Protestant Reformation, it does so only by a few decades, at a time when discontent with the luxurious lifestyles of wealthy prelates was increasing rapidly. Death shows that the wealthy are ultimately powerless, since he could have all the world if he wanted it, but his mercy cannot be bought.

Therefore to thy soul Good is a thief;For when thou art dead, this is my guiseAnother to deceive in the same wiseAs I have done thee, and all to his soul’s reprief.

Everyman is pleading with Goods to go on his journey with him, since he has loved Goods all his life and spent much of his time and energy in piling up treasure. This is the reply Goods gives him, and it is a shocking one. Satan makes no appearance in the play, and Goods is therefore the nearest thing that Everyman contains to a direct adversary of God and tempter of mankind. Several of the other characters are cowardly and disloyal, but Goods is the only one who takes delight in harming Everyman. Here he uses the vocabulary of theft and deceit, announcing that he has corrupted Everyman and intends to do the same to another after he is dead. Avarice is established throughout the play, and particularly in this speech, not just as one sin among many, but as the chief danger to mortal souls.

God will you to salvation bring,For priesthood exceedeth all other things;To us Holy Scripture they do teachAnd converteth man from sin heaven to reach;God hath to them more power given,Than to any angel that is in heaven. . . .

Everyman has said that he will go to find a priest to administer the last rites, and Five-Wits approves his course of action in these lines, where he extols the priesthood. His praise may seem excessive, and Knowledge later tempers it with the caution that there are bad priests. However, Five-Wits is in line with mainstream medieval theology, as derived from Saint Thomas Aquinas. Christ, who became a man and a priest, is superior to the angels, and priests imitate him in preparing other men for heaven, which angels do not do. In this respect, therefore, priests are more powerful than angels, and it is specifically the power of a priest that Everyman needs at this point in the play. Moreover, Five-Wits emphasizes God as the source of priestly power, placing him at the beginning of the first and fifth lines and making him the subject of those clauses.

This moral men may have in mind;Ye hearers, take it of worth, old and young,And forsake pride, for he deceiveth you in the end,And remember Beauty, Five-Wits, Strength, and Discretion,They all at last do Everyman forsake, Save his Good-Deeds,...

(This entire section contains 775 words.)

See This Study Guide Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this study guide. You'll also get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

there doth he take.

This is the beginning of the final speech or epilogue, delivered by the Doctor, who has had no part in the play until this point. He addresses the audience directly, emphasizing the moral of the play and exhorting them to apply it to their own lives. The heavy alliteration in the first line serves to stress the Doctor’s point even further. Although the word “pride” is not capitalized in this text, and there is no such character in the play, the sin is still personified as a deceiver, like Goods. This is in line with the message and tone of Everyman, which presents sins as active agents, eager to ensnare every man and doom him to hell. There is no indication that the Doctor is specifically a medical man, as modern audiences are likely to assume. The word means a scholar, a man of learning. Significantly, given that an angel has just appeared, Saint Thomas Aquinas, perhaps the greatest non-biblical authority in the medieval church, was generally known as “the Angelic Doctor.”




Critical Essays