Everyman, which belongs to the genre of the morality play, is meant to instruct readers in matters of morality and religion. A common form of medieval drama, morality plays often feature a protagonist who represents humankind as well as other characters who personify abstract ideas such as different virtues and vices. The interaction of such characters demonstrates the possibility of human triumph over sin, thus instructing the play’s audience to lead more moral, godly lives. The moral lessons of Everyman are facilitated primarily by the author’s use of allegory and personification, which allow the author to encapsulate complex ideas like death and friendship into simplistic characters, in turn allowing him to make sweeping and blunt moral arguments about the concepts the characters represent.
The most obvious example of this is the character of Everyman himself. The author uses the character as a symbolic representation of every man, thereby diminishing the diverse nature of humanity in favor of viewing all humanity as tainted by sin (since, according to Christian theology, all humans are innately sinful as a result of Adam’s and Eve’s fall from grace). The author presents Everyman as sinful by pointing out his greed, lust, and lack of Christian piety, effectively reducing all of humanity to one specific kind of person and ignoring the possibility of generosity, virtuousness, and piousness in his depiction of mankind. However, casting one character as the personification of all humanity enables the author to make much broader moral arguments than he would otherwise be able. The presentation of Everyman as a sinner doomed for damnation allows the author to make a convincing argument that all people should, like Everyman, behave in a certain way in order to avoid damnation. It’s notable that Everyman must not only behave virtuously and generously towards others, but he must turn to the Catholic Church to earn redemption. The reward, according to the author, is not only escape from fiery pits of Hell but also the promise of eternal bliss in Heaven.
Other examples of the author’s didactic use of personification include the portrayal of Fellowship (or friendship) as an enabler of Everyman’s sins, Goods (or material wealth) as a stain on his soul that sabotages his relationship with God, and Knowledge (or the knowledge of the Catholic Church) as the key to salvation. By defining complex ideas like friendship, wealth, and knowledge in so narrow a manner, the author paints a picture that suits his moral worldview, in which Catholic teachings and behavior are cast as mankind’s only deliverance from sin and damnation. In this way, Everyman not only takes a view of morality as something which can only be attained through the Catholic Church, but of people in general as innately sinful and dependent on the Church for their salvation.
Personification and Morality ThemeTracker
Personification and Morality Quotes in Everyman
I set not by gold, silver, nor riches,
Ne by pope, emperor, king, duke, ne princess.
For and I would receive gifts great,
All the world I might get;
But my custom is clean contrary.
I give thee no respite: come hence, and not tarry.
Now in good faith, I will not that way.
But and thou wilt murder, or any man kill,
In that I will help thee with a good will!
Whether ye have loved me or no,
By Saint John, I will not with thee go.
That is to thy damnation without lesing,
For my love is contrary to the love everlasting.
But if thou had me loved moderately during,
As, to the poor give part of me,
Then shouldst thou not in this dolour be,
Nor in this great sorrow and care.
Yea, sir, I may thank you of all;
If ye had perfectly cheered me,
Your book of account now full ready had be.
Look, the books of your works and deeds eke;
Oh, see how they lie under the feet,
To your soul’s heaviness.
God will you to salvation bring,
For priesthood exceedeth all other thing;
To us Holy Scripture they do teach,
And converteth man from sin heaven to reach;
God hath to them more power given,
Than to any angel that is in heaven
Everyman: Take example, all ye that this do hear or see,
How they that I loved best do forsake me,
Except my Good-Deeds that bideth truly.
Good-Deeds: All earthly things is but vanity:
Beauty, Strength, and Discretion, do man forsake,
Foolish friends and kinsmen, that fair spake,
All fleeth save Good-Deeds, and that am I.