Everyman as an Allegory
An Allegory, says M. H. Abrams, is a narrative in which the agents and action, and sometimes the setting as well, are contrived not only to make sense in themselves, but also to signify a second correlated order of persons, things, concepts, or events.
Allegories are of different types-historical or political allegory the allegory of ideas, and moral allegory. Dryden’s Absalom and Achitophel may be considered to be a historical or political allegory. King David stands for King Charles II of England; his illegitimate son, the Duke of Monmouth is represented as Absalom. The mentor of Absalom is Achitophel, i. e. the Earl of Shaftesbury.
Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress is a moral of religious allegory, in as much as it allegories the doctrines of Christian Salvation. Christian, the hero of the narrative flies away from the City of Destruction and plods his weary way to the Celestial City. On his way he meets certain noble internal attributes as Faithful and Hopeful. But he has also to encounter the Giant Despair. His path is uphill, and he has to pass through the Slough of Despond, the Valley of the Shadow of Death, and Vanity Fair.
Spenser’s Faerie Queene is a moral, religious, historical and political allegory. The Red Cross Knight of Book I stands for Holiness, Una represents Truth; in Book II, Sir Guyon represents Temperance: in Book III the Lady Britomart symbolises chastity: in Book IV Campbell and Triamond stand for ideal friendship Book V Sir Artegall represents justice: in Book VI Sir Calidore is the Symbol of courtesy. Prince Arthur is the symbol of Virtues, particularly Magnificence.
The political allegory is within the framework of the moral allegory. The Red Cross Knight is St. George of England as well as of the Reformed Church. Duessa is Mary, Queen of Scots; Archimago stands for the Pope of Rome : Orgoglio is Philip of Spain, determined to crush Protestantism: Arthur in the Earl of Leicester : and the Fairie Queene is Elizabeth herself.
Judged as a religious allegory, the Faerie Queene presents another set of characters, although there is hardly a line of demarcation between the religious allegory and the moral allegory. Throughout the poem there is the story of the bitter struggle between the English Reformed Church and Papacy, Atheism and Paganism
Dante’s The Divine Comedy is an allegorical epic, Spenser’s Faierie Queene is a Romance allegory, Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress is Prose fiction allegorized, and Everyman is a dramatic allegory.
An allegory, Alex Preminger points out, may be simple or complex. In simple allegory the fiction is wholly subordinate to the abstract moral, e g. the allegory of the four Kingdoms in Daniel. The Complex historical and political allegories tend to develop a strongly ironic tone. Swift’s Gulliver‘s Travels, particularly the sections dealing with the voyage to Laputa and Lugado are ironic and satirical, since they are primarily directed against philosophic and scientific pedantry and scholasticism.
Since Everyman is a moral allegory, we should do well to discuss this aspect in details. “The basic technique of moral allegory,” says Alex Preminger, “is personification, where a character represents an abstract idea.” The simpler the allegory, the more urgently the reader’s attention is directed to the allegorical meaning.
Morality plays are distinctly allegorical. “Morality plays”, says M. H. Abrams,
“(are) dramatized allegories of the life of man, his temptation and sinning, his quest for salvation, and his confrontation by death. The hero represents Mankind, or Everyman among the other characters are personifications of virtues, vices, and Death, as well as angels and demons who contest the possession of the soul of man.”
Everyman is an allegory. An English Morality play has a particular frame of reference, i.e. it is intended for Christian audience and illustrates orthodox Christian dogma and rituals.
A Morality depends substantially upon the proper use of allegory. Most critics go so far as to say that allegory and Morality are interdependent. Roy Mackenzie describes as Morality as a drama which is allegorical in structure.” Felix Schelling is categorical in her statement that “allegory is the distinguishing marks of the moral plays” David M Zermer in his Guide to English Literature of the Middle Ages, defines a Morality play as “a dramatized allegory, best exemplified in Everyman”. David Bevington says that the Morality is characterized primarily by the use of allegory to convey a moral lesson about religion or civil conduct.”
Hardin Craig strikes slightly different note :
“It is true that a Morality play is a dramatized allegory and that no drama is a Morality play unless it has this characteristic feature, but even this statement leaves the subject vague.”
Hardin Craig draws his conclusion:
“The morality play is a special kind of play in which mankind symbolically or allegorically presented, works out his only possible salvation.”
Throughout Everyman the abstract qualities- good and evil have been presented in personified forms. What the playwright seeks to emphasize is the conflict between vices and virtues, and the ultimate triumph of the later. Death comes as the messenger of God to summon Everyman. Everyman is the representative of mankind. To him as to us the playwright expounds the cardinal Christian values. Bernard Spivash rightly says that “the plot of the Morality play (Everyman), presents through visible forms and actions to the invisible history of the human soul according to the Christian formulations.”
The conflict between the vices and the virtues for the possession of the Soul of Man is theme of all the Morality plays, particularly, The Castle of Perseverance, Mankind, and Everyman. The Vices succeed for a while. As Death summons Everyman, already in the grip of the Vices like Fellowship and goods, the sensual pleasures and worldly possessions, he (Everyman) has to render an account of himself before God. Since is no respecter of persons, he will not listen to Everyman persuasion and the offer of bribes. Every man, therefore, seeks some respite. Death allows him a little time to find out some genial companions for his journey Fellowship with whom he has spent so many years in sport and play, revelry and merriment, must accompany him.
Little does he realise that Fellowship was only his fair weather friend, while he has served the world, the flesh, and the Devil. That is why he says that he will still be his friend when he will run after money, power, position, and women. Everyman then turns to his kindred, since blood is thicker than water. But all the external attributes- relations and even a cousin prove insubstantial. The cousin on whom he has banked so much, plead his inability because of his cramp in the tee. Such are, indeed, the ways of the world. Most friendship feigning, most loving mere folly. His confidence in the worldly attributes is rudely shaken. But all is not lost.
“The course of the play shows the process by which Everyman brings the cycle of his own life into consequence with the redeeming life, death, and resurrection of Christ”
Everyman turns to Goods and the worldly possessions. Throughout his life he has loved worldly things. This gave him enough confidence But as the day of reckoning draws nigh, the grim consciousness dawns upon his mind that the worldly treasures outlive all their importance at the time of death. All the Vices, i. e. worldly pleasures, worldly possessions, and beautiful women are confident of their supremacy, and are, therefore, confident of their victory. They are, however, mistaken, for Everyman even on brink of damnation, is assured of divine mercy.
Goods has failed, but not the Good Deeds, who is lying on the cold ground, too weak to stir. It is, however, a passing phase. His strength will be revived and he will then gladly and voluntarily accompany Everyman Till his complete recovery, his sister Knowledge will do everything necessary. Knowledge leads him to Confession, who in his turn asks him to submit to Penance. This is the hard core of Christian dogma. Everyman inflicts punishment upon himself. At once delivered from sickness and despondency. Good Deeds is completely revived, and offers to escort Everyman. Knowledge gives a garment of Everyman-the garment of sorrow, which would relieve him of pain.
What the playwright likes to emphasize is that man is fallible. For a moment the pleasures of the flesh appear more immediately attractive than the prospect of eternity and divine mercy. But these pleasures are ephemeral. Even the internal attributes, such as Beauty, Five Wits, Strength, and Discretion desert Everyman. Amidst these mutabilities, Everyman learns the supreme lesson that God’s mercy comes through Penance, repentance, and suffering.
“He discovers”, says Potter, “a higher conception of himself, not as an earthly creature but as a soul in harmony with God’s will”