Everyman

Everyman Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The messenger opens the play, by calling for the audience’s attention to “The Summoning of Everyman.” He says that the play will demonstrate the “transitory” nature of mortal lives and the ostensibly pleasurable but ultimately pernicious effects of sin. The messenger notes that Fellowship, Jollity, Strength, Pleasure, and Beauty will disappear after death, and that God will summon Everyman for “a general reckoning.” Then the messenger introduces the present action, asking for the audience’s attention once again to hear God speak.
The messenger establishes sin and death as the play’s primary subjects and themes. By creating an early association between sin and death, the messenger reminds readers of the Christian viewpoint that Adam and Eve’s original sin is the reason for mankind’s mortality, and that, by contrast, leading a Christian life opens a pathway to eternal life in Heaven. Put in less overtly religious terms, the messenger establishes that the play will center around death as an occasion for reflecting on one’s life.
Themes
Death Theme Icon
Sin, Human Nature, and the Material World Theme Icon
God’s speech begins the action of the play. He laments the fact that people are “unkind” to him and that they “liv[e] without dread in worldly prosperity.” By indulging in sin and material wealth, they forget God and the sacrifice he made for humanity through Christ’s martyrdom. As people are engaging in all seven of the deadly sins and are becoming worse every year, God decides to “have a reckoning of every man’s person,” calling them to account for the sins so that they don’t degenerate further into uncharitable, cannibalistic beasts. To do this, he summons Death.
God establishes an opposition between virtuousness and “worldly prosperity” that will appear repeatedly throughout the play, as characters that represent various worldly goods and pleasures make appearances to lead Everyman astray from the path of righteousness. God’s sweeping statements about mankind’s sinfulness hint at one of the play’s main viewpoints: that mankind is inherently sinful. The “reckoning” to which God refers is both a process of judging people’s souls and a physical ledger of all the sins and good deeds people have committed.
Themes
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Sin, Human Nature, and the Material World Theme Icon
Death enters, and God orders him to tell Everyman that he must immediately go on a pilgrimage “in [God’s] name” and bring with him a “reckoning”—a ledger that lists all the good and bad deeds Everyman has done, which God will use to decide whether Everyman goes to Heaven or Hell. Death eagerly sets out to fulfill God’s orders, searching the globe for “every man… that liveth beastly / Out of God’s laws.” Everyman, who is preoccupied with lust and greed, does not expect Death’s arrival.
Although it initially seems that Death sets out in search of all people who fail to live according to God’s law, he instead finds the character Everyman, making clear that Everyman is meant to symbolize “every one.” He symbolizes all people, which also drives home that all people in the view of the play are sinful.
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Sin, Human Nature, and the Material World Theme Icon
Death approaches Everyman, asking if he has forgotten his maker and informing him that God wants a reckoning from him. Troubled and unprepared for such a task, Everyman asks the identity of his interlocutor, who reveals that he is Death, who spares nobody.
The fact that Everyman is surprised by Death’s arrival shows that sinful behavior is in part the product of an arrogant mentality that death will never come, and that one will never have to account for one’s behavior, least of all by compiling a list of every good and bad deed ever committed.
Themes
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Everyman exclaims that Death came when he had least expected him, and then he tries to bribe Death with money in exchange for his life. However, Death refuses, as material goods mean nothing to him. Everyman then begs Death “for God’s mercy” to give him more time to make his “counting book” (another name for a reckoning) ready, but Death tells Everyman that crying and praying won’t help him now. Death then reminds Everyman that all humans must eventually die because of Adam’s sin. Everyman asks if he will be able to return to life, but Death says it is impossible and that his life was not “given” but merely “lent.” Upset that he must die, Everyman begs again for God’s mercy and asks Death if he can bring company on his journey. Death allows it, as long as he can find willing companions. After again rejecting Everyman’s pleas to be spared, Death sends him on his way.
Here, Death alludes to the Biblical story of Adam and Eve, in which the first man and woman defy God’s commandment and are exiled from the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve’s sin represents the sinfulness that is a part of human nature, and which is (according to the story) the cause of man’s mortality. Therefore, death and sin are inextricably linked—but eternal life is available to those who are righteous and follow God. Death’s reminder that Everyman’s life was never given to him, but merely on loan, reinforces the play’s theme of humility, encouraging readers not to arrogantly take their own lives for granted, but to remember that God is all powerful.
Themes
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Salvation, Humility, and the Catholic Church Theme Icon
At a loss for what to do, Everyman seeks his friend Fellowship for comfort, expecting that Fellowship will accompany him on his journey. When Everyman tells Fellowship that he is in danger, Fellowship asks Everyman to confide in him, promising that as Everyman’s friend, he will try to help. Fellowship insists that he will not forsake Everyman even if Everyman is going to Hell and he declares that he is willing to die for his friend.
Fellowship is the personification of friends and friendship in general. When faced with death, it is only natural that Everyman would first turn to his friends for support—and indeed, when Fellowship first appears, he seems like a trustworthy and supportive character.
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However, when Everyman reveals that he must soon face God’s judgment and would like company on his journey, Fellowship hesitates, as he knows that the journey will mean his death. He asks Everyman when he would be able to come back, and Everyman responds, “Never again till the day of doom.” Fellowship now adamantly refuses to join Everyman. He says that, while he wouldn’t take the journey of death even “for the father that begat [him],” he is more than willing to help Everyman “eat, and drink, and make good cheer, / Or haunt to women.” When Everyman points out that Fellowship is willing to accompany him only for his own amusement, Fellowship denies this, arguing that he is also ready to help Everyman “murder, or any man kill.” Everyman pleads with Fellowship, reminding them of their friendship, but Fellowship dismisses this, swearing by Saint John that he won’t change his mind.
Although Fellowship seems at first like a trustworthy and compassionate character, he is—quite understandably—unable to die along with Everyman. This passage underscores Everyman’s dread of death as well as his selfishness (since he asks his friend to accompany him on a journey he himself does not want to take). It also shows that, however dear one’s friends may be in life, people must ultimately face death and account for their sins alone. Everyman seems to hope that Fellowship will be able to rescue him from his fate, but Fellowship’s refusal to make the pilgrimage illustrates that, as beautiful as friendships may be, they are not the key to salvation. Moreover, the author suggests that Fellowship actually stands in the way of Everyman’s righteousness by helping him pursue worldly goods when in fact Everyman would be better served by pursuing spiritual virtues.
Themes
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Salvation, Humility, and the Catholic Church Theme Icon
Fellowship leaves, and Everyman wonders aloud about who could help him. He realizes that friendship cannot help him, quoting the proverb “in prosperity men friends may find, / Which in adversity be full unkind.” He decides to seek instead the help of his kinsmen, Kindred and Cousin, who declare that they will remain loyal to Everyman in “wealth and woe.” Everyman tells them about his situation—that he was commanded by a messenger of God to give an account of his good and evil deeds, and that he is seeking companions for his journey.
This proverb underscores the selfishness and unreliability of people in general, presenting a sobering reminder of the difficulty inherent in Everyman’s search to find something of lasting and reliable value in life before making the journey to death. Forsaken by his friend, Everyman instead turns to seek the help and companionship of his family.
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After learning of Everyman’s fate, Cousin and Kindred are unwilling to help him. Cousin makes the excuse that his toe is cramped and that he is not to be trusted, as Cousin “will deceive you in your most need.” Because his family has forsaken him, Everyman believes that he will never be happy again. Kindred tells Everyman to “make no moan,” and he offers his “maid” to accompany Everyman. Cousin then gives Everyman another reason for his refusal: he too has a “reckoning” to prepare. Soon after, Kindred and Cousin flee the scene.
Like Fellowship, Cousin and Kindred also refuse to help Everyman or accompany him on his journey. The unwillingness of various characters throughout the play to perform the ultimate self-sacrifice stands, implicitly, in contrast to the figure of Jesus Christ, who did die to save the soul of mankind. Cousin’s excuse for refusing Everyman’s request is particularly pathetic, underscoring the unreliability of even the people who are (supposedly) one’s closest and most devoted relations. Friends and family, the play makes clear, offer no salvation.
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Alone again, Everyman laments the loss of Fellowship, Kindred, and Cousin, who have all forsaken him. Wondering to whom he should turn next, Everyman decides that, as he has loved wealth his whole life, he should summon his friend Goods for advice. Goods appears and swears that “[if] ye in the world have trouble or adversity, / That can I help you to remedy shortly.” Everyman tells Goods his troubles, asking him to accompany Everyman and to help “purify” his reckoning, as he believes that “money maketh all right that is wrong.”
Goods promises to be able to solve whatever problem Everyman might be facing—but much like Kindred, Cousin, and Fellowship, Goods seems not to have considered the possibility of death, which no amount of money can keep at bay. Everyman’s request that Goods help him purify his reckoning is likely an allusion to the real-world practice, widespread at the time, of buying slips of paper called papal indulgences that supposedly absolved the buyer of their sins. The sale of indulgences, while sanctioned by the church, was controversial because it meant that the wealthiest people could simply buy their salvation. Hence, Everyman believes that Goods can help him right his wrongs.
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Goods, however, “sing[s] another song.” He says that if he accompanied Everyman, Everyman’s situation would be even worse than it already is, and he explains that Everyman’s love for Goods “made [his reckoning] blotted and blind.” Though troubled by Goods’ warning, Everyman still asks Goods to come with him. Goods tells him that he is “too brittle” to go on the journey. When Everyman points out that he has loved Goods his whole life, Goods replies that Everyman’s love for Goods has been leading him toward damnation, “for my love is contrary to the love everlasting.”
Goods’s confession has broad thematic resonance in the text, supporting the idea that sin is associated with the material world and its pleasures, which ultimately lead people away from the path of godliness. Everyman’s love of material goods has blinded him to the fact that worldly pursuits such as money are diametrically opposed to the pursuit of spiritual goods such as selflessness. Everyman’s belief that Goods can help him thus demonstrates how hopelessly lost he is in his search for a source of everlasting value.
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Goods further explains that if Everyman had loved Goods only moderately and had “to the poor give[n] part of me,” Everyman would have been better off. Everyman realizes that he has been deceived, as Goods explains that, contrary to Everyman’s belief that he owned Goods, Goods was actually only “lent” to him. Goods reveals that he deceives people to steal their souls. Everyman berates Goods for deceiving him, calling him a “traitor to God,” but Goods says that Everyman was responsible for his own fate. His anger relenting, Everyman recognizes that he should have loved God instead of Goods, but nevertheless he asks Goods once again to join him. Laughing at Everyman, Goods again refuses and leaves.
Goods’s betrayal of Everyman represents something of a turning point in Everyman’s pilgrimage, since it prompts his realization that he should have loved God if he hoped to have life everlasting—but that instead he loved something that was all along leading his soul down the path to damnation. The passage portrays Everyman as a deeply materialistic person, which means by extension that the play portrays people in general as deeply materialistic and vain (since Everyman symbolizes all of humanity). The cruelty of Goods suggests that worldly goods are mankind’s most sinister distraction from virtuousness and other worthy aims.
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Once alone, Everyman laments his situation, pondering whom he can ask to accompany him on his pilgrimage. His friends Fellowship, Kindred, Cousin, and Goods “gave [him] words fair,” promising to stand by him, but they all deserted him when he asked for help. Goods’ treachery was especially painful to Everyman, who becomes so ashamed that he says, “Thus may I well myself hate.” Everyman decides to seek out Good-Deeds, though she is “so weak / That she can neither go nor speak.”
The suggestion in this passage is that Everyman has spent so much of his life in sin and the pursuit of worldly goods that he no longer knows how to devote himself to the performance of good deeds. He admits to feeling some degree of self-hatred, implying that his sense of self-worth was so thoroughly entangled with his friends and possessions that, now that they have forsaken him, his sense of self-worth has also forsaken him.
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Everyman calls out for Good-Deeds, who “lie[s] cold in the ground,” weakened by Everyman’s sins. Everyman begins to ask her for help, but Good-Deeds already knows that Everyman has been summoned before God to account for his actions. Everyman asks Good-Deeds to accompany him, and she says that she would, but that she cannot stand up. When Everyman asks what happened to her, Good-Deeds tells him that she is too weak because he neglected her and that if he had “perfectly cheered” her, his “book of account” would have been ready. When Everyman asks Good-Deeds to help him “make reckoning,” she tells him again that she is not able to do so, but that she has a sister, Knowledge, who can help him “make that dreadful reckoning.”
The weakness of Good-Deeds symbolizes the difficulty of turning one’s life around at a moment’s notice. Having spent his life in sin, Everyman finds that he is unable to summon the help of Good-Deeds in the moment when it would most serve his own interests. In this sense, the play shows that anybody would likely repent of their sins when faced with the prospect of eternal damnation, but that this alone is not enough to redeem a person’s soul in the eyes of God. However, the fact that Good-Deeds is willing to help Everyman—even if she’s unable—immediately sets her apart from the cast of other characters that have appeared thus far in the play.
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Good-Deeds’s sister Knowledge appears, offering herself as Everyman’s guide. Happy that something good has finally happened, Everyman thanks “God my Creator.” Good-Deeds tells Everyman that once he “heal[s] thee of thy smart” and returns to Good-Deeds with his reckoning, they will go to “the blessed Trinity” to be judged together. Everyman thanks Good-Deeds and leaves with Knowledge, who tells him that they must visit Confession, “that cleansing river.”
The fact that Knowledge is the sister of Good-Deeds suggests that she, too—unlike Fellowship, Kindred, and Goods—will be willing and able to help Everyman in his pilgrimage. Because Knowledge’s first act is to take Everyman to see Confession, it is likely that the name “Knowledge” refers specifically to knowledge of God, the scripture, and the holy sacraments of the Catholic religion rather than to knowledge more generally.
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Everyman asks where “that holy man, Confession” lives, and Knowledge replies, “In the house of salvation.” Knowledge instructs Everyman to kneel before Confession and to ask him for mercy, as Confession “is in good conceit with God almighty.” Everyman does so, asking Confession to wash away his sins and explaining that he has been summoned by God to present his reckoning.
That Confession lives in the house of salvation strongly suggests that confession and the other sacraments of Catholicism are foundational to the salvation of one’s soul—even more so than the doing of good deeds. This is in keeping with the play’s general treatment of morality and salvation as being intimately associated with the institution of the Catholic Church.
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Confession, who already knows of Everyman’s predicament, agrees to help because he came with Knowledge. He gives Everyman “a precious jewel… / Called penance, wise voider of adversity.” According to Confession, penance, combined with abstinence and service to God, will purify Everyman. Confession then tells Everyman that Everyman will “receive that scourge of me.” Confession warns that it will be painful, but that Everyman must persevere and remember that the Savior suffered such pain for him. Confession tells Knowledge to stay with Everyman as he continues his pilgrimage and assures Everyman that he will be saved by God’s mercy.
Confession lays out a plan for Everyman to win salvation. Notably, he tells Everyman that the process will be painful, which reflects a more broadly-held attitude that mortification and even flagellation (whipping) of the body were necessary because the flesh and its pleasures are inherently corrupt, and so harming one’s own body was a way of denying the flesh in favor of one’s soul. The idea that confessing to one’s sins and repenting are necessary to salvation also fits with the overarching theme of humility in the text. Not only is Everyman not capable of saving his own soul, but indeed his only path to salvation is by acknowledging as much.
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Everyman thanks God and sets out to begin his penance with Knowledge by his side. He prays to God for forgiveness, reminding the audience of Adam’s sin and of God’s mercy through Christ. In his prayers, he addresses God with numerous epithets such as “way of rightwiseness” and “mirror of joy.” He also prays to Mary, asking her to pray to God on his behalf. He then tells Knowledge to “give [him] the scourge of penance” so that he will be released from the bondage of his own sin. Knowledge assures him that he is on the right path to making his reckoning, and Everyman proceeds to punish his body “in the name of the Holy Trinity.” He explains that, since his pursuit of bodily pleasures led him to damnation, his suffering of “strokes and punishing” will save him.
The self-flagellation (or whipping) that occurs in this passage may seem jarring to modern readers, but was in fact quite common as a means of demonstrating repentance for one’s sins in the Middle Ages. Here, the pain endured by Everyman is meant to counteract or pay for the worldly pleasures he pursued and experienced in life. By modern standards, this presents a markedly austere view of what it would take for the average person to redeem themselves in the eyes of God. The willingness to subject oneself to physical pain is another symbol of the humility that the play presents as the key to winning salvation.
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Suddenly Good-Deeds appears and announces that she has been healed and is now able to accompany Everyman on his pilgrimage. When Knowledge tells Everyman to be happy, as Good-Deeds is “whole and sound” and able to join them, Everyman responds that his “heart is light, and shall be evermore.” Good-Deeds tells him that he will receive “eternal glory” and that she will always stand by him. Everyman welcomes her, weeping at the love in her voice.
By stating that Everyman will receive eternal glory, Good-Deeds implies that the simple acts of repentance, prayer, and self-flagellation effectively saved his soul. Good-Deeds is now healthy and able to accompany Everyman on his journey to the afterlife, once again suggesting that the Catholic Church and its sacraments are the pathway to morality and salvation.
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Knowledge again tells Everyman to be happy, as he will go to heaven. She gives him a “garment of sorrow” to wear before God and tells him that such contrition “pleaseth God passing well.” As Everyman now has “true contrition,” and as Good-Deeds has his reckoning in hand, Everyman is ready to continue his journey with his two companions. However, Good-Deeds says that in order to move forward, he must be joined by Discretion, Strength, and Beauty. Knowledge adds that he must also seek the advice of his Five-wits.
The garment of sorrow is a symbol not simply of Everyman’s repentant attitude, but also of the austere view that the play takes of morality more generally as a matter of denying any and all earthly pleasures—and even happiness. Knowledge implies that it flatters God to see his creation acting with humility and contrition. The characters of Discretion, Strength, and Beauty represent virtues that are secondary to Good-Deeds and Knowledge but who nonetheless accompany Everyman on his journey.
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Beauty appears with Discretion, Strength, and Five-wits, ready to assist Everyman. At Good-Deeds’ request, they all agree to join Everyman on his pilgrimage, causing Everyman to thank God. Strength vows to fight for him in battle, while Five-wits, Beauty, and Strength assure him of their loyalty, regardless of what happens next. Everyman prays that God will send them to heaven, and tells them that after he dies, most of his money is to go to charity. Knowledge then instructs Everyman to go to a priest for the holy sacrament and unction, while the rest of the group waits for him to come back.
Interestingly, strength and beauty are two virtues which can describe the body as well as the soul. This is notable because up until this point of the play, anything associated with the body or the material world has been roundly condemned. Yet here it remains ambiguous whether strength and beauty refer to physical or spiritual characteristics, adding nuance to the play’s otherwise dismissive treatment of physical virtues.
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At this point, Five-wits makes a speech about priests, telling Everyman that priests have greater authority than any political ruler because they are commissioned by God. According to Five-wits, priests’ knowledge of the sacraments allows them exclusive access to “the key and…the cure / For man’s redemption.” He then lists out the seven sacraments: baptism, confirmation, the Eucharist, marriage, unction, and penance. Five-wits declares that priesthood “exceedeth all other thing” because priests teach laymen scripture and purge them of sin, allowing them to go to heaven. He claims that priests are more powerful than angels, because they have the power to transform bread and wine into the very flesh and blood of God. He praises priests as the only “remedy” that “cureth sin deadly,” declaring that they are “above angels in degree.” Everyman then leaves.
Five-wits’s claim that priests are more powerful than angels would be seen by many today as heretical. Indeed, this kind of thinking—which places greater authority on the Church than on actual divine beings—is part of what would eventually lead to the Protestant Reformation that began in 1517. Passages like these (which emphasize the importance of the sacraments and the priesthood) make it reasonable for even the most well-informed reader to assume that this morality play—and other plays like it—must have been commissioned by the Catholic Church, but scholars maintain that they were not. This is worth noting because it demonstrates how widespread was the belief that the institution of the Catholic Church was the only path to salvation.
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Knowledge continues the discussion on priesthood but qualifies Five-wits’ statements, saying that this is true only if the priests are good. He points out that Jesus gave humanity “the same sacrament” as given by good priests, but did so “in great torment,” by sacrificing his own life. He also points to the fact that there are “sinful priests” who lead lives of lechery and are poor examples to sinners. Five-wits counters, saying that he has faith that they won’t encounter any of these sinful priests and that they should choose to honor priesthood. He cuts short the discussion when he sees Everyman, who “hath made true satisfaction,” approaching.
The discussion between Five-wits and Knowledge is an interesting nod to tensions that existed in Europe at the time Everyman was written about the power and corruption of the clergy. In a text that is otherwise deeply sympathetic toward the Church, here Knowledge presents an important qualification to Five-wits’s argument, suggesting that the Church is in fact fallible and that not all priests should be regarded with complete reverence.
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Everyman returns, saying that he has received the Eucharist and unction. He takes out a cross, asking his six companions to place their hand on it and to follow him. Strength, Discretion, and Knowledge promise to never leave him. As they continue on their journey, Everyman feels faint and cannot stand. He tells his companions, “Let us not turn again to this land, / Not for all the world’s gold,” and he says he must climb into the earth—that is, a grave—to rest.
The Euchartist and unction are two of the seven Catholic sacraments. That Everyman does all these things in the hours before his death does not seem to undermine their significance in the eyes of the author or of God, despite the fact that Everyman is clearly (though perhaps not solely) motivated by self-interest — he does these things in a last-minute bid to save his own soul from damnation.
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Beauty, shocked that Everyman is expecting her to die, decides to leave, refusing to look back, not even for “all the gold in [Everyman’s] chest.” Everyman asks aloud whom he can trust, lamenting that Beauty promised with to live and die with him. Strength, too, decides to leave, regretting her decision to accompany Everyman in the first place. When Everyman points out that Strength promised to stay with him, Strength says she doesn’t care and leaves. Everyman notes how he thought Strength to be “surer,” but now he realizes that one should not put trust in one’s strength. Discretion also leaves, despite Everyman’s pleas, as she must always follow Strength. Everyman laments that his friends deserted him as soon as he was close to death and he says that “all thing faileth, save God alone.” At this point, Five-wits says farewell, leaving Everyman in tears, as Five-wits was his best friend.
The departures of Beauty, Strength, Discretion, and Five-wits confirm the play’s general attitude toward worldly goods. In death, Everyman cannot depend on these four personifications anymore than he could depend on Fellowship, Goods, or Kindred. The suggestion here is that beauty and strength are often confused for spiritual goods, but they don’t accompany people into death. Even Discretion—seemingly a virtue—vanishes, implying that human judgement is too fallible to be relied on, and that even it cannot save a person’s soul. The disappearance of Five-wits, who arguably represents common sense, signifies the same thing, and once again bolsters the play’s emphasis on humility and the ultimate value of spiritual things over anything associated with the material world or human body.
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Everyman cries out to Jesus, saying that everyone has forsaken him, but Good-Deeds corrects him, promising to stay with him. Everyman thanks her and realizes that Beauty, Strength, Discretion, and Five-wits were not true friends to him, as Good-Deeds is. He asks Knowledge if she too will forsake him, and she replies that she will stay with him a while longer, but only until the moment he dies. Everyman thanks her and realizes that he is approaching death and that he must soon make his reckoning. He speaks directly to the audience, asking them to view him as an example of “How they that I loved best do forsake me, / Except my Good-Deeds that bideth truly.” Good-Deeds chimes in, saying that “All earthly things is but vanity” and pointing out how everyone—Beauty, Strength, Discretion, and Everyman’s “friends and kinsmen”—except for Good-Deeds abandoned Everyman. Dying, Everyman cries out to God for mercy, putting the fate of his soul in God’s hands.
This is the play’s most direct and overt condemnation of “earthly things” as transient and unreliable. Here, Good-deeds drives home the main moral message of the play: that morality and salvation consist in good deeds alone, while all other earthly pursuits and pleasures ultimately perish or fade in death. Of course, what complicates this message is the play’s emphasis on the sacraments of the Catholic Church—which one could argue is itself composed of a human and therefore corruptible clergy—as a pathway to salvation. Indeed, the Catholic Church struggled internally with corruption in the Middle Ages much as it does today, but was still widely recognized as the highest authority on matters of the soul and morality. Although Good-Deeds will accompany Everyman into the afterlife, even Knowledge will depart in the moment of death.
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As the souls of Everyman and Good-Deeds leave their bodies, Knowledge remains on earth. She remarks that Everyman “suffered that we all shall endure” and that her sister Good-Deeds will ensure his salvation. Knowledge thinks she hears the singing of angels. Soon, an angel appears on stage, welcoming Everyman’s soul into heaven because of his “singular virtue” and “crystal-clear” reckoning. The angel declares that Everyman will live happily in heaven until judgment day.
That the angel proclaims Everyman to be of “singular virtue” would suggest that the play actually takes a much less pessimistic view of mankind’s innate morality than it first seemed. If it truly is the case that a man who lived his life in sin but repented at the last moment can gain salvation for his soul, then the play seems to suggest that it is far from beyond the reach of the average person to attain “singular virtue” for him- or herself.
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A doctor appears, addressing the audience directly with an epilogue. He instructs us to “forsake pride” and reminds us that Beauty, Five-wits, Strength, and Discretion all abandon Everyman, and that when we are judged by God, we are alone, save for Good-Deeds. He warns us that we must make “amends” before death, in order to gain God’s mercy and to clear our reckoning. If not, the doctor tells us, we will suffer in hell, but if our reckoning is “whole and sound,” we will be “crowned” in heaven until the resurrection, when our bodies and souls will be reunited.
If there was any possibility that the play’s overt moral message has not reached readers by this point in the play, the doctor’s concluding speech ensures that readers understand Everyman’s story is a warning to them. In other words, the play encourages its readers to realign their priorities before it is too late and death comes calling. In this way, the play serves not only as a moral and religious reminder to forego earthly goods in favor of redemption, but also serves as a memento mori, or a reminder that death will come for them, too, someday—perhaps when they least expect it.
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