Everyman

The play opens with a messenger calling for the audience’s attention to this “moral play,” which will demonstrate the transitory nature of human life. Next God appears, lamenting the unworthiness of humans, who no longer revere him and who sinfully indulge in greed and lust. Deciding to make people account for their sins, God orders Death to summon Everyman so that he can be judged by his “reckoning,” a ledger of his good and ill deeds. However, when Death approaches Everyman on earth, Everyman is unwilling to die and unprepared for his reckoning. Clinging to the life he had, Everyman begs Death for more time. Death refuses, but he allows Everyman to seek a companion for his “pilgrimage,” provided that he can find someone willing to accompany him to the afterlife.

A disconsolate Everyman seeks out his friend Fellowship for comfort and counsel, and Fellowship appears, promising his undying loyalty. However, when Fellowship learns that accompanying Everyman on the journey means that Fellowship, too, will die, he refuses to help his friend. Fellowship leaves, and Everyman seeks the help of his relatives Kindred and Cousin instead, thinking that blood will be thicker than water. However, while Kindred and Cousin promise to stand by him in “wealth and woe,” they also forsake him, as they too are afraid of death. Alone, Everyman bemoans this abandonment by his friends and family and wonders whom he can turn to next for help. He decides to ask for the assistance of his friend Goods, whom he has long loved. Though Goods (like Fellowship, Kindred, and Cousin) promises to help Everyman, he immediately reneges on his promise after learning of Everyman’s predicament. In addition to refusing to join Everyman, Goods also informs Everyman that he has been damaging Everyman’s reckoning all along: because Everyman loved Goods so much instead of loving God, Everyman will be condemned to hell.

Shocked by Goods’ treachery, Everyman is in despair, as he is completely alone, with no one willing to help him. He decides to seek out Good-Deeds, though she is so weak from Everyman’s sin and neglect that she cannot stand. Unlike his other friends, Good-Deeds is willing to help him, but she is too weak to do so. Though she cannot accompany him in person, she says that her sister Knowledge can help him to clear his reckoning. Knowledge guides Everyman to Confession, who teaches Everyman to repent. To atone for his sins, Everyman prays to God, begging for mercy, and he uses a scourge (a whip) for self-mortification.

As a result, Good-Deeds is healed and she finds Everyman in order to accompany him on his journey. Knowledge then bestows upon Everyman a “garment of sorrow,” which allows Everyman to show contrition. She and Good-Deeds request the presence of Everyman’s friends Discretion, Strength, Beauty, Five-wits, who all agree to help Everyman during his pilgrimage. At Knowledge’s instruction, Everyman sees a priest for the holy sacrament and unction. While the rest of the group is waiting for Everyman’s return, Five-wits makes a speech about the superiority of priests, claiming that they are “above angels in degree.” Knowledge reminds him that not all priests are good, but Five-wits argues that one should nevertheless honor priesthood. At that point, Everyman returns, having undergone the remaining sacraments of last rites, and the group continues on their journey.

Approaching death, Everyman weakens and decides that it is time for him to make his reckoning. When he tries to climb into a grave and asks his companions to join him, Beauty, Strength, Discretion, and Five-wits all desert him, making him realize that “all earthly things is but vanity.” In contrast, Knowledge agrees to stay with him until the moment of his death, and Good-Deeds promises to make his case as he faces God’s judgment. Good-Deeds and Everyman’s soul pass over to the afterlife, and Knowledge, who is left on stage, remarks that she hears angels singing and that Good-Deeds will make sure that Everyman goes to heaven. An angel then appears, welcoming Everyman into heaven because of his “crystal-clear” reckoning. The play ends with an epilogue from a doctor, who tells the audience that they must make “amends” for their sins before they die and that they can only rely on good deeds to save them from hell.