Everyman: Morality Play Summary and Analysis

Section 2 (l.184-462)

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Left alone on stage, Everyman tells the audience he could “weep with sighs deep!” He has no company, and feels very alone – and, as well as that, his book of reckoning is “full unready” (completely unready for God’s judgement). He then asks a direct question, perhaps to the audience, or perhaps rhetorically:

How shall I do now for to excuse me?

I would to God I had never be get!

Everyman sees no way to excuse himself, and wishes he had never been born. He says that he fears “pains huge and great”. Moreover, as he notes in a short, bleak sentence “the time passeth”. It is then that Everyman has the idea of appealing to Fellowship, and telling him about what has happened. Everyman says that he trusts Fellowship, because the two of them have been “good friends in sport and play” together for “many a day”.

Fellowship enters, and Everyman addresses him “to ease my sorrow”. Fellowship sees that Everyman is looking sad, and immediately offers to help. When Everyman tells him that he is in “great jeopardy”, Fellowship pledges not to “forsake [Everyman] to my life’s end / in... good company”. Fellowship continues to pledge his company and his determination to right whatever wrong has befallen Everyman – and Everyman thanks him. Fellowship even states (with notable dramatic irony)

For in faith, and thou go to hell,

I will not forsake thee by the way.

Fellowship, then, seems determined to accompany Everyman. Everyman then tells Fellowship that he is commanded to go on a long, hard journey and eventually come up before God to be judged. It is on this journey, Everyman continues, that he wants Fellowship to “bear me company / as ye have promised”.

Fellowship tells Everyman that he knows such a journey would be “to [his] pain”. He asks Everyman when they’d come back from such a journey; Everyman replies “never again, till the day of doom”. “In faith”, Fellowship says, “then will not I come there!” Fellowship tells Everyman that nothing would make him go on such a journey. Everyman, understandably annoyed, reminds Fellowship that he promised he would accompany him even to death.

Fellowship then says to Everyman that he’d happily accompany him while he ate, drank , made “good cheer” or enjoyed the “lusty company” of women. Fellowship even offers to help Everyman commit a murder, but reiterates that he will not go with him on his journey – even if Everyman were to give him “a new gown”. Everyman realizes that Fellowship is only going to be his friend and companion when times are good. Fellowship departs from Everyman “as fast as” he can.

Left alone on stage, Everyman soliloquizes, asking who he should turn to for help now that Fellowship has deserted him. He decides to turn to his kinsmen, and quotes a proverb “Kind will creep where it may not go”. At that, Kindred and Cousin enter. They say that they are at Everyman’s commandment, and that they will “live and die together” with him, and stay with him “in wealth and woe”. Everyman tells them his story and that he is to go on a painful pilgrimage from which he will never return. Kindred asks him what sort of reckoning he is to make. Everyman replies that he must show how he has lived, how he has spent his days, all the ill deeds that he has done, and all the opportunities to be virtuous which he has not taken up.

Cousin says he’d rather fast for five years on bread and water than accompany Everyman. Kindred, for his part, tells Everyman to cheer up and stop moaning (“Take good heart to you, and make no moan”) – but all the same, Everyman shall “go alone”. Several excuses follow as Everyman asks Kindred and Cousin to accompany him: Cousin has “the cramp in [his] toe”, Kindred offers his maid to go with Everyman, and Cousin – finally – adds that he has his own reckoning to make. Cousin and Kindred exit separately.

Left alone again, Everyman makes another soliloquy. He realizes that

Fair words maketh fools fain.

They promise and nothing will do.

Deserted by Fellowship, Cousin and Kindred, Everyman has realized that only fools are made glad by “fair words”. People promise things – but do not intend to do anything.

Everyman concludes that his Goods could help him and make his “heart full light”. He calls to his “Goods and richesse” to help him. Goods answers him:

I lie here in corners, trussed and piled so high,

Also in chests I am locked so fast,

Also sacked in bags...

Goods claims to be able to help Everyman, and Everyman again explains his situation and the pilgrimage on which he must go. Everyman hopes that Goods might be able to help him with making his book of reckoning better: for he has heard it said that “Money maketh all right that is wrong”.

Goods, though, immediately says that he follows “no man in such voyages”, and adds that, far from cleansing his book of reckoning, Everyman’s obsession with Goods has “blotted” it. “My love”, Goods adds, “is contrary to the love everlasting”. Everyman is surprised and disappointed to hear this. He tells Goods that he is “false” and a “traitor to God” who has caught him in a “snare”. Goods simply replies that Everyman did it to himself, laughs at Everyman and exits.

Analysis

Having met the first batch of characters, it seems obvious to make a few comments about the nature of character in the Everyman. The first thing to realize is that these are not characters as we understand them in the modern sense, post-Shakespeare and Stanislavski. Though it is not true of all literature of this period, in morality plays, there are usually allegorical figures rather than what we might consider “rounded characters”. Allegory is a difficult literary device to understand and explain: a form of metaphor in which abstract ideas or principles are represented as concrete characters, figures, or events.

What does this mean? Well, rather than the writer spending any time or energy trying to make a character resemble a “real person”, or to be emotionally convincing, complicated (in terms of personality, behaviour or action) or surprising, the writer makes a character simply represent – or personify – one attribute. Rather than a character being “Hamlet” and full of contradictions (maybe a coward, maybe a brave revenger; maybe a misogynist, maybe a good boyfriend and son; maybe a Protestant, maybe a Catholic) you have a character called “Fellowship”, who simply represents the idea of fellowship.

It is a far simpler, less rich, less complicated view of character than the modern one. It also means that there is a strange double vision in the way that the play works. When Fellowship speaks, you are hearing the words of the character Fellowship, friend to Everyman – but you are also hearing an attitude that might be in some way associated with fellowship. If strength could speak, for example, what would it say? Critics have, in recent years, really emphasized the problems of combining the moralistic and the dramatic in this way.

Fellowship, however, perhaps provides us with some clue to Everyman’s life previous to his visitation from Death. He suggests, rather than making his pilgrimage, the two might undertake some feasting and drinking and the company of women. He also, somewhat oddly, speaks of murder, as if, in the words of G.A. Lester “it has been a regular means of entertainment for Everyman”:

But, and thou will murder, or any man kill -

In that I will help thee with a good will.

Everyman, remember, represents mankind generally – and clearly the sins that Fellowship suggests committing are precisely the ones that God outlined at the beginning of the play. These sins are, perhaps, more serious than simply the emphasis laid upon worldly goods in the first part of the play: though, significantly, Fellowship would not even accompany Everyman, he says, for a “new gown” – developing the theme of rich clothing and its association with worldly rather than spiritual value.

Goods, of course, arrives personified in the play, and like Fellowship, deserts Everyman, refusing to accompany him on his pilgrimage. The structure of this part of the play, is, in effect, a list of the things that you can’t take with you when you die, and it is interesting that the playwright chose to start with the concrete examples of other people’s friendship and your belongings.

The pilgrimage itself, of course, is an important trope in medieval literature, providing the base for, among many others, Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales. It is an interesting metaphor: life is a journey towards God. Here, though, the emphasis is quite firmly laid on the fact that it is a journey that you ultimately make alone. It is notable that the first friend to forsake Everyman is the only one to represent humans – Fellowship - and the forsaking friends who come later in the play are allegorical personifications of abstract qualities like strength or goods. The message is bleak, but clear: other people will immediately desert you. It also provides an interesting connection with religious orders (monks and nuns) who swear a vow of poverty – like Everyman, they must lay aside their worldly goods.

Stylistically, it is also worth noting the continual use of proverbs by the writer of Everyman. Everyman himself speaks two in this section. Firstly, after the departure of Fellowship, he comments that “Fair words maketh fools fain” (Nice words only make idiots happy) as he has realised that he cannot trust promises that people make. Interestingly, though, he also ruminates that he has heard the proverb “Money maketh all right that is wrong” (Money rights every wrong – money solves every problem) which leads him to turn to his goods. It might be a true dictum of our earthly world that you can buy your way out of any problem; but it is certainly not true at all of the Christian spiritual world which Everyman will travel to after his death. The ironic use of this proverb reiterates the play’s emphasis on spiritual value over worldly goods.