Everyman: Morality Play

Recognizing Author's Purpose

Why might the author have the messenger mention the full title of the play and what the play shows?

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To begin with, where we might expect a play to gradually unravel its plot and any moral purpose it might have, the Everyman states it before we have even met a character. Printed on the title page is the purpose of the play, so the reader can be in no doubt; and in performance, the first thing that happens is the Messenger’s entrance, who begins by telling the audience that this will be a “moral play” about our “lives and ending."

The play immediately foregrounds its purpose, and introduces a key theme: ‘how transitory we be all day’. The transience of man’s life – how short lived we are – is a central theme of Everyman: focusing our minds not on the soon-finished concerns of our worldly life, but the eternal afterlife which will follow. There is also no dramatic tension established: the Messenger tells us that Fellowship, Jollity, Strength, Pleasure and Beauty will all fade from us “as flower in May” – in other words, all these things, which in the world are considered valuable, are transitory and will merely fade away when you die. You can’t take them with you. The ending of the play, then, is announced at the very beginning – there is no mystery about whether or not Everyman’s so-called friends will desert him.

Thus, the Messenger’s opening speech also begins the play’s concern with beginnings and endings: the play shows of our “ending” as well as our “lives”, and warns us “in the beginning” to “take good heed to the ending”. So at the beginning of the play, we are invited to think about the end; just as, as the Messenger continues to explain, sin seems fantastic “in the beginning”, but “in the end” causes the soul to weep. There is a natural rhythm, then, in the play – and a recurring theme – of the relationship between beginning and ending: and the importance of planning ahead, of thinking about where the end point might be, of considering the consequences of any particular action.