Everyman Play | Critical Analysis

Everyman Play | Critical Analysis

Everyman Play Analysis

Everyman, though now recognized to be a faithful transition from the Dutch Elkerlijk, may reasonably claim to be the most prominent Morality play. In the sixteenth century it was printed for at least four times. Thoroughly dramatic in language and treatment, Everyman, says Potter, is, “the most artistically successful of the moralities, is also most imaginative and philosophical in dramatizing repentance in human terms”.

Everyman is the representative man of all ages and climes, and, therefore, transcends the limitations of time and space, political divisions, and geographical frontiers. Man is the hero of the play, and, therefore, the human note is predominant.

Apparently the play is simple, but on close analysis, it illustrates the complexities of medieval theology and dogma. Even to a superficial observer it will appear that characters in Everyman are humanized. E. M, Browne says in Religious Drama.

“Dramatically this type of play has severe limitations for no character can behave unexpectedly even the representative of human kind (Humanuam genus Mankind, Everyman) can only change from good to evil and back again, with none of the complexity of actual human motives. Everyman has the advantage that its action is concentrated: instead of trying to trace the fortunes of mankind through a whole lifetime, it begins at the point where man is confronted with Death, and this gives to the whole play an urgency lacking from some of the other Moralities”

The play Everyman is allegorical. The characters are certain abstractions, and yet they are distinctly humanized. At a moment when he is least prepared. Everyone receives the summons of Death. He then turns to Fellowship and Goods, Kinsmen and Cousin, Beauty, Strength, and Discretion for help. They excuse themselves, and refuse to go with him. It is strange that their excuses are typically human. He then turns to Good Deed is lying on the ground, to a work to move about. Then deplorable condition of Good Deeds is due entirely to the indifference and neglect of Everyman. Even then he is helpful and Everyman to get in touch with his sister knowledge who symbolizes the consciousness of one’s sins. Everyman acts upon his advice and calls upon knowledge. He passes through the process of confession, contriving, and Penance, and attains absolution. He realizes that he was so long an ardent lover of the world, the flesh and the Devil. But on the realization that he is steeped in sin, the conflict between the vices and the virtues for the possession of his soul has already begun. The playwright introduces the vices at the beginning of the play. It enables the audience to understand that Everyman was in blissful ignorance of Sin. The major vice figures, the Seven Deadly Sins have also not been introduced for specific reason. Every man has already yielded to the various temptations of the flesh, and, therefore, he is already a fallen man. The action of the play begins when he has already fallen from God’s grace.

The very presence of the vice figures on the stage demonstrates Everyman’s sinfulness. Fellowship tells him:

“And yet if thou wilt cat, and drink, and make good cheer,

Or haunt to women the lusty company,

I would not forsake you while the day is clear,”

This clearly demonstrates the gluttony and Lust have long held him in their grip. His declaration for the love of Good is a distinct proof of his covetousness. On the advice of Good Deeds, knowledge leads Everyman to Confession from whom he receive contrition and Penance. He wears the robe of contrition and scourges himself.

Everyman as a Morality play is far more perfect in design than all other Moralities, Collier characterizes the play as “one of the most perfect allegories ever formed”. The praise is certainly not extravagant. For the texture of the plot is both simple and strong, in strict consonance with its stern and serious home. The frame of reference has been consistently didactic Intended for the Christian audience, the play is based upon orthodox Christian dogma and rituals.

Allegory is a significant feature of a Morality play. Felix Schelling is categorical in her statement that “allegory is the distinguishing mark of the moral plays.” Allegory is used to convey a moral lesson about religious and ethics —Social and civil. “The morality play is a special kind of play in which mankind, symbolically or allegorically presented works out his only possible salvation” Allegory is the means, and didactic intention is the effect Wisdom. The Castle of Perseverance, Mankind, and Everyman are all allegorical and didactic at the same time. Wisdom begins with a dialogue between wisdom and Anima. Wisdom instructs the soul to avoid Sin. In the Prologue to the Castle of Perseverance the playwright tells the audience about the purpose of the play. In conclusion God warns them about the Day of Last Judgment. They should therefore, avoid a life of sin, and lead a life of righteousness to be squared eternal bonfire. Mankind inculcates supreme lesson that good works and a virtuous life can alone bring about man’s spiritual salvation. In Everyman the Doctor delivers a sermon;

“This moral man may have in mind,

Ye hearers, take it of worth, old, and young.”

Unlike most of the Morality Plays Everyman does not end in mere holy counsel. The crucial transformation of Everyman is intensely dramatic and soul stirring. The state of transformation is a slow but painful process. Everyman so long depended upon worldly goods and external attributes. But with the summons of Death he takes stock of his belonging, and becomes increasingly conscious of his spiritual illness. In the house of Salvation, he comes across Confession, who prescribes contrition and penance for his illness. For attaining God’s mercy he unhesitatingly scourges himself. He has no more doubt and vacillation. He prays to Christ and acknowledges him as the redeemer. This change is demonstrated. Porter points out in three ways: First, Goods Deeds, who has been hobbled by Everyman’s sins, rises before the eyes of all to accompany Everyman on his journey: Second, Knowledge provides Everyman with a patient’s garment in token of his contrition, which Everyman willingly puts on: Third, Everyman’s book of reckoning, which previously has been rendered illegible by his sins, is now seen to be clear.

The theme of Everyman is unmistakably serious and didactic and yet the playwright has not left out humorous touches altogether. The Miracle plays afforded ample opportunities for humorous treatment. The Morality Plays did not. In Everyman the reply of Cousin to Everyman’s request to accompany him is certainly humorous :

“No by our Lady ; I have a cramp in my toe.” The plea, no doubts, flimsy, rouses over laughter.


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