Everyman as a Morality Play
Everyman is a medieval morality play possibly a translation of the Dutch play Elckerlijc. The Castle of Perseverance, Wisdom, Mankind, and Everyman are some of the distinguished Morality Plays, the central idea of which is a single didactic intention. Like all Moralities, Everyman has a Christian audience, and is based upon orthodox Christian dogma.
Allegory is an important feature of a Morality play. Roy Mackenzie describes “a Morality as a play, which is allegorical in structure” Felix Schelling is of the opinion that “allegory is the distinguishing mark of the moral plays.” David M. Zermer in his Guide to English Literature says that a Morality play is “a dramatized allegory best exemplified in Everyman.” David Bevington insists that a Morality Play is “characterised primarily by the use of allegory to convey a moral lesson about religion or civil conduct.” Hardin Craig observes :
“It is true that a Morality play is a dramatised allegory, and that no drama is a morality play unless it has this characteristic feature, but even this statement leaves the subject vague.”
Hence to call a morality play an allegory is not enough. In fact, the morality play is a special kind of play in which mankind symbolically or allegorically presented, works out his only possible salvation.
Besides allegory, a morality play must have a didactic objective. The Doctor of Everyman concludes:
“This moral men may have in mind,
Ye hearers, take it of worth, old any young”.
The Messenger and the Doctor are never tired of pointing out to the audience that life is transitory, and therefore, should persistently think of spiritual salvation.
The didactic note differentiates a morality play from other dramatic forms.
The existence of Vices and Virtues is an essential condition. In Everyman, for example, the Vices have defeated the Virtues and brought about Everyman’s downfall. But the victory of Vices is only a passing phase. Eventually Everyman is thoroughly disillusioned about the forces of evil. He succeeds in preventing the spiritual damnation and ultimately repents and moves along the path of spiritual salvation. The Vices as well as the Virtues seek to possess man’s soul. Man’s penance and repentance help him save his soul. God is merciful, and He allows even a penitent sinner to save himself. Repentance alone resolves the difficulty, and terminates the conflict between Vices and Virtues. Steeped in luxury and pleasure, Everyman was spiritually deadened. But as soon as he received the summons, his spiritual awareness, so long lying dormant, was awakened, and quickened his moral regeneration and spiritual salvation. As Lawrence Ryan has rightly points out:
“Everyman’s excessive love of passing things has placed him in danger of hell-fire”. But his knowledge, i. e, the recognition of the extent of the sins he has committed, makes him conscious of the hell-fire he was plunging into Everyman emphasizes the fundamentals of life and experience. Man is the central figure on the stage. Virtues and Vices are fleeting visitors. Heaven with all its glory and Hell with all its hideousness are on either side. If vices triumph, he will have to plunge into the yawning Hell; and if virtues win, he will be admitted in Heaven amidst songs celestial and angelic rejoicings.
Everyman appears on the stage as a happy-go-lucky person. He serves the world, the flesh, and the Devil He rolls in wealth. He is an ardent lover of material goods and sensual pleasures. This is a clear indication that he was already tempted and, therefore, on the primrose path of dalliance to eternal bonfire. But repentance brings about the forgiveness of sins. Everyman is not a treatise on virtue. It is a call to a specific religious act “It is,” says Robert Potter, “the acknowledgement, confession, and forgiveness of sin, institutionalized in medieval Christianity as the sacrament of penance.”
Confession and penance are a part of Roman Catholic dogma. A person committing the Seven Deadly Sins can have salvation only through Confession and Penance. In God’s opinion Everyman has become a spiritually blind, sinful, and ungrateful creature wastes away his life in pursuing the Seven Deadly Sins and sensual pleasures. The dramatist introduces the vices right at the beginning of the play. He brings home to the audience the fact that the vice are man’s arch-enemies and the potential destroyer of his soul. The intention of the Vices is to tempt man. While in most of the Morality plays all the Seven Deadly Sins are introduced. Everyman omits the major vice figures. The reason is not far to seek, Everyman has already been tempted by some of the vices. He is on the stage as a fallen man. He is shown as one steeped in Sin. The temptations are all over. As soon as he realizes that the love he has given to the vices should have been given to God, his spiritual regeneration has already commenced.
Everyman speaks to the Goods and seeks his help. As there is no encouraging reply, he gives way to despair. This is a crucial moment in his life. Despair means the triumph of the vices. Eleanor Prosser points out:
“The orthodox concept of despair is of great importance for both medieval and Renaissance drama……we tend to forget that within the Christian tradition des pair was (and is the most heinous of sins, a sin against the Holy Ghost.”
What the playwright seeks to emphasize is that no sin is too great to be forgiven if the Sinner has faith. Mere faith, however, will not do. The scales in the eyes can be removed by Repentance. Repentance has four elements-faith, contrition, confession, and Penance. Knowledge leads Everyman to confession. Everyman’s contrition is evident by his sincere regret for his attachment to the Seven Deadly Sins After this arduous process Everyman receives his absolution. The angles greet him and escort him to heaven. In The Castle of Perseverance and Everyman man enters heaven and is face to face with God in Mankind he is asked to avoid his enemies and live a virtuous life. In Wisdom man is at peace with God.
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