ENG 2301

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Study Guide for Everyman
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.  An online 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:

  1. 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).
  2. 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.)
  3. 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 becoming known.)
  4. 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.
  5. 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 friendship?
  6. 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?
  7. 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?
  8. When Everyman turns to Good Deeds, she is too weak to help him.  Why?  To whom does she send him for help?
  9. 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?
  10. 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?
  11. 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, and Goods?
  12. To whom do all these truer friends take Everyman?  What does he receive there?
  13. What doubts does Knowledge express about priests?  Notice that Everyman is off-stage at this point and does not hear what Knowledge says.
  14. 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?
  15. 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 make.")
  16. Who goes with Everyman into the grave?
  17. 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.)
  18. 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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