Everyman

Everyman Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Anonymous's Everyman. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Anonymous

Though Everyman’s author has not been identified, some scholars have argued that the play is an English translation of a fifteenth century Dutch morality play. The Dutch play, Elckerlijc (which translates to “Every Man”), has been attributed to Peter van Diest, a medieval writer from the Low Countries about whom little is known.
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Historical Context of Everyman

As an allegorical morality play, Everyman relies mainly on generalized personifications of abstract ideas rather than on specific events in history, but its emphasis on Catholic sacraments (such as confession) as a path to redemption reminds readers that the play was written before the Protestant Reformation, at a time when Europe was largely Catholic. In this sense, the play can be understood as a reflection of a more widely held but soon-to-be-challenged sentiment that the only path to salvation was through the Church and its clergy. Although the Reformation was not to begin until 1517, tensions had long existed—and sometimes flared up—among Christians over allegations of corruption in the Church, prompting a set of feuds known as the Great Schism of Western Christianity, which lasted from 1378–1416. Although plays like Everyman take a sympathetic view of the Church, they were not—as some might expect—commissioned or produced by the Church. Rather, they were often staged by craft guilds. As one of the earliest forms of English drama, morality plays can be said to have paved the way for all later drama, including that produced by such later literary luminaries as William Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe, and Ben Jonson.

Other Books Related to Everyman

Everyman is an example of a morality play, an allegorical drama in which morals and vices are personified into characters that lead the protagonist toward a Christian life. Morality plays were one of the earliest and most popular forms of European and English drama, and were most popular in the 15th and 16th centuries. Other examples of morality plays are The Castle of Perseverance, Hickscorner, Mankind, and Magnyfycence. The play Everyman is also the source of the term “everyman,” which denotes an ordinary person to whom an audience can easily relate. Since the earliest performances of Everyman in the 1500s, many plays, novels, television series, movies, have used everyman characters. Examples range from Christian in John Bunyan’s seventeenth-century allegory The Pilgrim’s Progress to Willy Loman in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, to Ted Mosby in the popular television series How I Met Your Mother.
Key Facts about Everyman
  • Full Title: The Somonyng of Everyman
  • When Written: 15th century
  • Where Written: Unknown
  • When Published: Early 16th century
  • Literary Period: Middle Ages/Medieval literature
  • Genre: Morality play
  • Setting: Earth and heaven
  • Climax: Everyman dies and surrenders himself to God
  • Antagonist: Fellowship, Kindred, Cousin, Goods

Extra Credit for Everyman

Roth’s Everyman. Everyman provided the inspiration for Philip Roth’s novel Everyman, for which Roth was awarded his third PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction in 2007.

Everyman in the Big Apple. Playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’s recent adaptation of Everyman, titled Everybody, was performed at New York City’s Pershing Square Signature Center in 2017.