The purpose of any morality play is to warn its audience against sin, and Everyman is no different. At the beginning of the play, Everyman’s life is filled with sin, which, at first glance, appears to be represented entirely by his friends, who serve to enable Everyman’s sins. For example, the character Fellowship reveals that, while he won’t die for his friend, he is more than willing to help him “eat, and drink, and make good cheer, / Or haunt to women, the lusty company,” or even to “murder, or any man kill.” When Everyman turns to his friend Goods for comfort, Goods reveals that he was actually been tarnishing Everyman’s soul and distancing him from God. In these two cases, it is clear that part of what the play is characterizing as sinful (aside from the most obvious sin of murder) is Everyman’s indulgence in the material world. Sin is associated with worldly pleasures and goods—eating, drinking, sex, and money. Such materialism results, as Goods tells Everyman, in the gradual loss of a person’s soul and, eventually, damnation. Even Knowledge, Discretion, Strength, Beauty, and Five-Wits—though not sinful or malicious like Goods or Fellowship—ultimately prove to be inadequate in saving Everyman from death because they, too, represent worldly values. As Everyman approaches death and his body begins to weaken, all of his companions—save for Good-Deeds—are unable to accompany Everyman on his “pilgrimage,” which ultimately leads him to heaven. Whether sinful or righteous, these friends cannot support him during his reckoning, demonstrating the author’s belief that material things have no power to save people from Hell, and that everyone will face judgment with nothing to defend them but their good deeds.
The play portrays humanity (with Everyman being the personification of humanity) as inherently sinful. Although the author uses personification to represent the various things that tempt Everyman into sinfulness (e.g., Goods, Beauty, Fellowship), Everyman’s sinfulness is nevertheless characterized as being part of his nature. Fellowship and Goods may represent Everyman’s sins and indulgence in materiality, but only insofar as they are enablers or tempters. Everyman’s choices to succumb to such temptation are the reasons for the sins in his reckoning. The inherent nature of Everyman’s sinfulness is emphasized by Death, who explains that “in the world each living creature / For Adam’s sin must die of nature.” Death is referring to the idea of “original sin,” which, in Christian theology, is the sin inherent in every human being as a consequence of Adam’s and Eve’s fall from grace. Adam’s sin—disobeying God’s commandment—is the root of the widespread sinfulness that God laments in the beginning of the play. Everyman, like Adam, has neglected God and ignored his commandments. Humanity, according to God, is so “drowned in sin” and fixated on material wealth that they seem to have entirely forgotten the sacrifice that Christ made when he died for their salvation.
In other words, Everyman is selfish. He has forgotten God, he has not shared his wealth with others, and throughout much of the play he asks his friends to die for him, even though he himself is afraid of death. His selfishness is made especially clear in his attempt to rid himself of sin. Everyman eventually learns that in order to escape damnation he must not only deny his worldly desires but also punish himself for having had those desires. After Knowledge brings Everyman to church, Confession tells him that he must “receive that scourge of me” and “chastise” (or punish) his body—that is, he must engage in self-mortification or self-flagellation. Everyman literally whips himself, “suffer[ing] now strokes and punishing” and declaring that his body is “the sin of the flesh.” Through his act of flagellating himself in order to purify himself, he demonstrates both that he is becoming selfless and that his selfishness—his pursuit of worldly pleasures and material goods—would have been his damnation.
Sin, Human Nature, and the Material World ThemeTracker
Sin, Human Nature, and the Material World Quotes in Everyman
Drowned in sin, they know me not for their God;
In worldly riches is all their mind,
They fear not my rightwiseness, the sharp rod;
My law that I shewed, when I for them died,
They forget clean, and shedding of my blood red;
I hanged between two, it cannot be denied;
To get them life I suffered to be dead
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.
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.
In the name of the Holy Trinity,
My body sore punished shall be:
Take this body for the sin of the flesh;
Also thou delightest to go gay and fresh,
And in the way of damnation thou did me bring;
Therefore suffer now strokes and punishing.
Now of penance I will wade the water clear,
To save me from purgatory, that sharp fire.
But when Jesus hanged on the cross with great smart
There he gave, out of his blessed heart,
The same sacrament in great torment:
He sold them not to us, that Lord Omnipotent.
Therefore Saint Peter the apostle doth say
That Jesu’s curse hath all they
Which God their Savior do buy or sell,
Or they for any money do take or tell.
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.