Everyman Play Analysis
Sometime after 1485, Everyman, a morality play, was written and first performed. The play follows Everyman, who learns he must face his Judgement Day, as he searches for someone to journey with him until his death. Along the way, Everyman calls upon his vices and virtues to inquire about who may follow him to the grave, but he learns that it is only his Good Deeds that will stand with him in his final hour. “How they that I loved best do forsake me,” (Everyman 483) laments, after he realizes that Beauty, Strength, Discretion, Five-Wits, Goods, and even Knowledge cannot go with him.
The concept of a morality play was to ponder the destiny of one’s soul in a religious context. After the messenger who introduces the theme and setting of the play exits, God wonders “How that all creatures to me be unkind,” (Everyman 464) why men turn away from God and his goodness in favor of worldly pursuits. Enter Death, who is called upon to bring Everyman before God to answer for his ways. Everyman is the allegorical representation of the human race; he has plentiful faults and has “liveth beastly out of God’s law,” (Everyman 465). When Death comes to Everyman, Everyman begs Death to return another time, acknowledging “[his] writing is full unready,” (Everyman 468), that is, that his failures and shortcomings in the eyes of God far exceed the good deeds and acts that would surely aid him in this final reckoning. What God already knows of Everyman, Everyman himself comes to learn over the course of the play. While Fellowship, Kindred and Cousin, and Goods each provide fleeting comfort to Everyman, they just as swiftly abandon him when they learn he must go before God, particularly Goods. It is Goods who admits both that “My love is contrary to the everlasting,” and “My condition is man’s soul to kill,” (Everyman 473), revealing to Everyman the truth that he cannot be in pursuit of both eternal salvation and material possession. As more of Everyman’s vices in life begin to fall away, he must turn to that which can save him in death.
It is Good Deeds and her sister Knowledge that ultimately provide Everyman with what he needs on Judgement Day. Upon learning that his Good Deeds cannot stand alone to make the journey with him before God, Knowledge reveals to Everyman that he must “kneel down and ask mercy,” (Everyman 476) to atone for his sins. Everyman’s penance strengths Good Deeds, and Knowledge asks for Everyman to call upon his other virtues of Beauty, Strength, Discretion, and Five-Wits. Though these virtues promise Everyman that they will remain alongside him until the end, they slowly fall away until only Knowledge and Good Deeds are left. Even Knowledge forsakes Everyman in the end, and this is when Everyman is shown the truth of life, “How they that I best loved do forsake me except my Good Deeds that bideth truly,” (Everyman 483). It is this line that embodies the entirety of the play.
Each character of the play abandons Everyman except Good Deeds, just as in life, when mankind will surely be abandoned by the same. It is only the benevolent acts one performs that will ultimately brave the test before God. This morality play plainly demonstrates this at a time in the late 15th century where great emphasis was placed on piety and strong morality in the face of what could just as easily be opulence and materialism. Everyman encapsulates the human spirit, and his arc of redemption through repentance is meant to be the great moral of the play. Salvation is granted to Everyman once he realizes in the face of death what ought to have been known to him in life; God expects mankind to act graciously and kindly, with its ultimate focus on Him. This line reveals this truth, but also serves as a summation of the plot of the play, indicating the line’s significance both to the plot and theme of Everyman.