The World of Medieval Drama in Everyman

The social reality of a historical period gets reflected in the literature of the time. The idea that literature reflects society is applicable to medieval drama. It was a time when imaginative literature was seen with suspicion. However, drama was profitably employed to teach moral and religious lessons.

It was a period when religion occupied the central place in the lives of the people. The church played a pivotal role in the life of an ordinary person. The questions of salvation were at the center of religious discussions.  Religion ruled over everything else. The drama of the period dealt with religious themes to disseminate messages of Christianity and it informed people of their position in the world. A life of sins with lust for the pleasures of the material world was discouraged and people were urged to uphold Christian virtues and moral life to ensure salvation for themselves after death. To teach these religious and moral lessons the play wrights used the literary device called allegory through which religious themes were dramatized indirectly. The presence of these elements makes Everyman a typical medieval play.

Basically an allegory is a device in which characters do not represent human beings but the abstract qualities. Medieval age was a superstitious and an age with a great degree of religiosity. Everyman uses abstract qualities like Beauty, Knowledge as characters. It is a kind of personification. It upholds the teachings of church and Christianity. It allegorizes many virtues and is didactic in tone. It is different from other plays as it lacks hilarity and comicality. During the medieval period, it was held that men is corrupted by birth because he is already fallen due to original sin. So, Everyman carries the burden of this sin. The penalty for sin is either death or damnation. Life is a journey which either leads to damnation or salvation. So man is in a dangerous condition. The main point of morality plays was to make it clear that man has to make extra efforts to transcend these aspects of himself. At that time people undertook many pilgrimages to overcome their sinful nature. Everyman has to do this journey too. This journey will do much to uplift the people from debased ground.

Death comes to Everyman, but he is not prepared. He has to give an account of his deeds both sinful and moral. So far as the account is concerned, one’s virtues would be on the side of moral account and the sins and vices would be on the side of sinful account. Whichever side weighed heavier the person will be punished or rewarded accordingly. Unprepared, Everyman goes to Knowledge, Beauty, Wit, Strength, and Kinship but none of them comes to his aid. He is all alone. It shows Everyman had paid attention to the worldly things that were perishable. He had not devoted himself to God and morality. It shows the danger of damnation. Everyman had not done enough to be graced with salvation. He had paid so little attention to good deeds that is very weak as character representing a virtue. The process through which Everyman passes is typically Christian. He had committed sins, repents for it, confesses and makes the path to salvation wider now. After confession Good Deeds becomes stronger and is ready to accompany him. Nothing we have done in our life will be useful for salvation except Good Deeds. The tone is clearly moral and religious. All those things are virtues that can be converted into assets and liabilities to help change one’s spiritual state. However, all these things are subservient to good work. Everyman praises a virtuous life. There is a conflict within Everyman among different qualities. Man comes to this world, disadvantaged and he has to make extra efforts to get salvation is the clear cut moral lesson the play tries to impart. Everyman allegorically stands for every Christian and urges them to live a virtuous life to get salvation. Everyman is thus a typical medieval play.

Everyman Study Center

Introduction of Everyman

Summary of Everyman

Allegorical Elements in Everyman

Themes of Everyman