Composition and Literature, LEARNING

Death and “Everyman”

This is a “drama research paper” that I wrote for an English course; however, it is not very dramatic.


Essay Thesis Statement: Death has no friends and takes no prisoners because it eventually comes to everyone without consideration of age, status, race or language. Even though no one likes it, not any person has been able to avoid it.

Essay Outline: What is Everyman?
Everyman is an English morality play with the main themes being humanity, salvation, and death. It includes many interesting characters and personifications of vices and virtues. No one knows the exact author or date.

Everyman‘s plot
This morality play basically seeks to answer the question of “What must a man do to be saved?” This play teaches how sinners must repent and turn from their sins, how Christians must live and what we all have to do to be saved.

Theology in Everyman
Everyman is presented from a Catholic point of view, but its themes regarding repentance, salvation and what happens after death ring true. We must remember that sin is deceptive and only pleasurable for a moment, it is better to gain spiritual things than material things, we should “take good heed” to live for tomorrow and not today because no one can escape God’s final judgment.

Death in Everyman
Ultimately, the overriding theme in Everyman is Death. No one likes it. No one can escape it either because this unfortunate event must happen to all because of our sins. When we die the only thing that will accompany us into the afterlife and judgment, according to Everyman, are our good works.

Drama Research Paper

Everyman is an English morality play with the main themes being humanity, salvation, and death. This play was originally called The Summoning of Everyman but was later shortened to Everyman. It was written sometime in the late 1400’s but it’s author remains unknown. Our main character is of course Everyman, who represents all of mankind in disobedience toward our Creator but who eventually repents and turns back to God for salvation. The second main character is God who is merciful but displeased with how man has turned its back on Him and divulged in worldly pleasures. In an effort to change this, God calls for Death and commands Him to summon Everyman. Other characters in this play are: Fellowship, Kindred, Cousin, Material Goods, Good Deeds, Knowledge, Confession, Angel, Doctor, Discretion, Strength, Everyman’s Five Wits, and Beauty.

With these characters and the setting set, Everyman begins. A messenger in the beginning warns every one listening to lend their ears and hear the message behind this play:

Ye think sin in the beginning full sweet,
Which in the end causeth thy soul to weep,
When the body lieth in clay.
Here shall you see how Fellowship and Jollity,
Both Strength, Pleasure, and Beauty,
Will fade from thee as flower in May.
For ye shall here, how our heavenly king
Calleth Everyman to a general reckoning:
Give audience, and here what he doth say.

God, in Heaven, looks down on Everyman and is much displeased that Everyman has turned his back on Him and is now only seeking money, fame and earthly, material riches. Because of this He decides that it is time for Everyman to die. Summoning Death He commands him to go and take Everyman the message that it is time for him to go on a long journey and prepare to come before God.

At first, Everyman does not want to go and even tries to bribe Death to take some money and not take him. Death does not take the money and eventually Everyman is forced to start on his journey. Starting off, Everyman asks several others to accompany. Some refuse and some agree to go but when the way gets tough, they desert him. Even some good vices like Discretion, Strength, and Beauty have to leave him as he nears death showing that nothing at all can accompany a person to the grave. In the end, it is only Good Deeds that remains with him. Everyman commends his soul into God’s hands and disappears into the grave with Good Deeds beside him. In the end, listeners are once again warned to forsake sin and material things because in the end they forsake every man:

Ye hearers, take it of worth, old and young,
And forsake pride, for he deceiveth you in the end,
And remember Beauty, Five-wits, Strength, and Discretion,
They all at last do Everyman forsake,
Save his Good-Deeds, there doth he take.
But beware, and they be small
Before God, he hath no help at all.

The play, Everyman, is written from a Catholic point of view including things such as penance and purgatory. It also implies that one can get into Heaven on their good works. While this is not true, the play does get right that sinful man must repent and turn back to good. We are all on a journey that will eventually lead us to our Maker and when that happens only our works will be judged, not how much earthly riches or friends we had.

As we were warned at the beginning of the play, we must remember that sin is deceptive and only pleasurable for a moment. It is better to gain spiritual things than material things. We should “take good heed” to live for tomorrow and not today because no one can escape God’s final judgment.

Since Everyman can also be considered a dramatized allegory, it is often compared to Pilgrim’s Progress and like Pilgrim’s Progress has several good themes:

(1) Life
Everyman reminds us that life is transitory. “That of our lives and ending shows / How transitory we be all day.” Nothing is forever. Even we are not forever. We are never the same but always changing and moving toward death. The only person that does not change is God and only Heaven and Hell are eternal.

(2) Sin
Sin is a big theme throughout this play. Sin is what prompts God to call for Death. “Drowned in sin, they know me not for their God / In worldly riches is all their mind.” Sin is why Everyman must begin his journey and why so many of those who agreed to go with him at first, eventually forsook him. Ultimately, Everyman had to try and rid himself of sin to get to Heaven.

(3) Worldliness
All of mankind, including Everyman, has gone the way of the world. They are consumed with themselves and the riches of the world. “They be so cumbered with worldly riches / That needs on them I must do justice.” On his journey, Everyman must forsake his love of the world, including his friends, and finally learns that one cannot get into Heaven with these things.

(4) Judgment
After his journey, Everyman must face God’s judgment. Before he gets there however, he must clear his book of reckoning and work hard to get right with God after living recklessly for so long.

(5) Death
Finally, the prevailing theme throughout Everyman is death. After God, it begins with death and in the end, life ends with death. Above all the other themes, this play is ultimately about death. Death is responsible for bringing people to judgment and the entire play explores what we must do and get right before dying. Like Everyman, we are all on a journey from birth to death.

The author perceives death to be something that comes when one least expects it as if to surprise its unlucky visitor. “O Death, thou comest when I had thee least in mind.” Death is not viewed as a horror or even something to be feared in this writing but merely as something that should prepare us for the judgment ahead. While Death is treated as something that is unwanted by Everyman, it is also taken as something that one must deal with and thus go ahead and accept.

While not many scholarly articles can be found about Everyman, it has been described as one of the best moral plays the drama world has received. Stanton B. Garner Jr., in the article “Theatricality in Mankind and Everyman,” says that Everyman is a play which “focuses on the world beyond man’s world, the spiritual realm that encloses the material.” While he was mainly focusing on the dramatic acting roles that had to be played in his article, I think it is safe to apply that also to its overall meaning and theme. Everyman gets readers to think about the world that is beyond our world, the life that comes after death, and the Maker we all must prepare to meet.

Works Cited:
Kennedy, X. J., and Gioia, Dana. Literature. Longman, 2010. Print.
Garner Jr., Stanton B. Theatricality in Mankind and Everyman. California State University, 19 August 2011.  ‹›

Photo credit: The Little Book Store


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