Character Analysis of Everyman
Everyman is the representative of all man of all ages and climes. Not an unmitigated villain; he has drunk life to the lees, and committed acts of sin with no sense of regret. Yet we feel irresistibly drawn to him as we feel drawn to Macbeth, who has waded through blood to the throne. The characters in the Morality plays often appear to be wooden. Everyman and the dramatis personae play their parts in the necessary sequence of human life.
The characters in the English Morality plays are of three distinct group- the mankind figures, the virtue figures, and the Vice figures. All of them are within the framework of a Christian world. If the hero is a mankind figure, his soul becomes the apple of discord. Virtues and Vices make frantic efforts to possess his soul.
Everyman is a mankind figures, and vices and virtues are pitted against each other to capture his soul. A Christian by creed, Everyman never thought seriously about Christianity as an article of faith. As the play opens, he is already fallen man but still he retains the potentiality for good or evil. The character of Everyman is never static. We watch the gradual development of his character,- the slow transformation from the state of sin to the state of grace. Nowhere has the playwright dwelt at length upon Everyman’s life of sin. He has as much generalized Everyman as he has particularized him.
Everyman is limited to a crucial moment in his life. An adult, fully conscious of his actions, Everyman thought in his youth that it was worthwhile to be devoted to Fellowship and Goods, worldly possessions and sensual pleasures. Such must be the character of millions of people all over the world. Yet it must be said in all fairness to the playwright that he has succeeded in individualizing a generalized mankind figure, who, though a figure of all times is yet a particular person, living in a particular time and place.
For the first time in his life, Everyman is dazed to learn that he has to make pilgrimage for his final reckoning. It was an eventuality he was least prepared for. He is also supposed to take with him his full book of accounts. The grim consciousness dawned upon him that his liabilities are many, and assets few He is now faced with two possibilities – damnation and salvation. The scales have fallen from his eyes. He must seek salvation. Still like a drowning man catching at a straw, he hugs the fond belief that Fellowship. Kindred, Cousin, and Goods would agree to accompany him. He is, however, soon disillusioned and realises, at an enormous cost, that he should no more set store by worldly goods, rank, money, power, and position. It is a sheer wild goose chase not worth trying.
It would not be out of place to draw a distinction between the character of Everyman and the characters of the vice and virtue figures. The virtues are forces of good and seek man’s spiritual well-being. The vices are forces of evil, bent upon man’s spiritual damnation. Those character are static: they remain what they always were, and undergo no change for the better or the worse. Their only action is confined to the possession of the soul of Everyman. In the conflict between vices and virtues, the former are initially victorious to be defeated by the latter in the long run.
Everyman realizes the falsity-the illusion of worldly things. His confidence in worldly attributes has given way to recognition of the supreme need of internal attributes. He has grossly misused his life no doubt, but there is still the glimmering hope that all can still be redeemed. He is torn in conflict between despair and hope. In a fit of despair he cries out:
“For my Goods sharply did me tell
That he bringeth many into hell
Then of myself I was ashamed.
And so I am worthy to be blamed.
Thus may I well myself hate.”
Despair, it should be noted, is a sin, according to Christian dogma. Eleanor Prosser says:
“The orthodox concept of despair is of great importance for both medieval and Renaissance drama… we tend to forget that within the Christian tradition was (and is) the most heinous of sins, a sin against the Holy Ghost,”
The entire gamut of human emotions is ably and abundantly illustrated in the character of Everyman.
Despair is only a passing phase. Gradually Everyman develops moral roughness and is prepared for the final ordeal. He is ashamed that he has ever counted upon the external attributes, who let one down at the hour of dire need. Good Deeds and Knowledge have instilled courage and strength into his mind. He goes to Confession, who lives in the house of salvation. Advised to do penance, he scourges his flesh, and yet feels exultant. His repentance begins immediately after his estrangement from the worldly possessions he once depended upon. Repentance, from the orthodox Christian point of view, consists of four traditional elements -faith, contribution, confession and penance.
Spiritually armed, Everyman is ready for death. His internal attributes, Discretion, Strength, Beauty, and Five Wits offer to go with him. They, however, would not go a long way. They would help him in the journey for a while. Even then Everyman does not feel dispirited. When Beauty shudders at the idea of going with him, Everyman no longer gives way to despair. He has got the theological answer to the spiritual dilemma. He becomes a preceptor and says:
“Yea, by my faith, and never more appear,
In this world live no more we shall.
But in heaven before the highest Lord of all.”
Everyman has illustrated the Christian tenet that a man struts and frets his hour upon the stage of the world for a while he commits sin and wallows in sensual pleasures, and is yet to be saved. His pristine glory is lost, his innocence tarnished, he attains experience, which is theologically necessary. But God in His bountiful charity will not allow the soul to be lost.