|Luminarium, a site about medieval, Renaissance
literature, provides a good introduction
to the play. You may also find it useful to consult Dr. Christy Desmet's outline of the plot.
text of the play shows what it looks like when the spelling is
not modernized, as it is in our textbook.
|Everyman is both a morality
play and an allegory.
(Click on these terms to go to definitions. You can also click on definitions in the Luminarium
introduction cited above.)
As you read, look for answers to the following questions:
- What does the Messenger tell us in the first speech? Notice that audience
(a hearing) and gracious (giving grace) are used with their original, literal
meanings. As you read this play, if a word (even a common one) seems very odd in its
context, try looking it up and paying attention to its derivation (the words it comes
from, given in most hardback dictionaries).
- What does God say in his first speech? (Notice how "every man," a
general reference, gradually becomes "Everyman," a character, in this speech and
the next two.)
- What must Everyman do? What two metaphors are used to describe what he must do?
(See ll. 103-04.) Accounting majors may be especially interested in the use
of the "book of count" as an image here.
Everyman's books are out of balance. (Accounting
was well established in the medieval world, and double-entry bookkeeping was
- How does Everyman react to Death's summons? He makes four requests. What are
they, and how does Death respond to each? Which request does Death agree to grant,
and what conditions does he set? If Everyman's requests seem odd, think about how we
behave when we must do something that frightens us.
- What happens when Everyman asks Fellowship to go with him? How does this relate to
Fellowship's promises in ll. 212-14, ll. 219-20, and ll. 232-33? What kinds of
things does Fellowship say he would go along for? What has Everyman learned about
- What happens when Everyman turns to his family (Kinship and Cousin)? In ll.
373-76, Cousin gives the main reason no one wants to accompany Everyman. What is it?
- Everyman next turns to Goods (wealth). Notice that in ll. 401-02, Goods tells the
truth about when he can and will help Everyman. What happens when Everyman asks
Goods to go with him in this situation? Look carefully at what Goods says in ll.
439-45. How permanent is wealth, and how good is wealth for the human soul?
- When Everyman turns to Good Deeds, she is too weak to help him. Why? To whom
does she send him for help?
- Knowledge isn't just any knowledge--she represents the knowledge of salvation (of how to
be saved). If you are unfamiliar with Catholic doctrine (and especially if you are
familiar with Protestant ideas on the subject), read carefully in the next sections.
Knowledge agrees to do something Good Deeds cannot yet do and no one else will do.
What is it?
- To whom does Knowledge first take Everyman? What does Everyman do there, and what
is he given? (Click here to
go to the Columbia Encyclopedia for a definition of penance.) What
effect does this have on Good Deeds?
- What garment does Everyman receive from Knowledge? What condition is his
"reckoning" in now? What other friends do Good Deeds and Knowledge bring
to Everyman? Why are these friends more reliable than Fellowship, Kinship, Cousin,
- To whom do all these truer friends take Everyman? What does he receive there?
- What doubts does Knowledge express about priests? Notice that Everyman is
off-stage at this point and does not hear what Knowledge says.
- What happens to Beauty, Strength, Discretion, and Five-Wits when Everyman comes to the
grave? Do they go with him all the way? What do you think this means?
- How far does Knowledge go? (Notice that according to most Christian doctrine, the
Knowledge of salvation belongs on this side of the grave. After death, it is too
late to use such knowledge--as l. 912 says, "after death amends may no man
- Who goes with Everyman into the grave?
- What do the speeches of Knowledge and the Angel suggest about the destination of
Everyman's soul after his death? (The "Bride of Christ" is the church, and
Everyman dies as a part of the church.)
- The Doctor (a learned person!) underlines the moral of this morality play. What
does he say?
Last updated 04/25/11
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