A prologue, read by the Messenger asks the audience to give their attention and announces the purpose of the play, which will show us our lives as well as our deaths (“our ending”) and how we humans are always (“all day”) transitory: changing from one state into another.
God speaks next, and immediately launches into a criticism of the way that “all creatures” are not serving Him properly. People are living without “dread” (fear) in the world without any thought of heaven or hell, or the judgment that will eventually come to them. “In worldly riches is all their mind”, God says. Everyone is living purely for their own pleasure, but yet they are not at all secure in their lives. God sees everything decaying, and getting worse “fro year to year” (from year to year) and so has decided to have a “reckoning of every man’s person”. Are they guilty or are they godly – should they be going to heaven or hell?
God calls in Death, his “mighty messenger”. People who love wealth and worldly goods will be struck by Death’s dart and will be sent to dwell in hell eternally – unless, that is, “Alms be his good friend”. “Alms” means “good deeds”, and it is an important clue even at this stage that good deeds can save a sinner from eternal damnation.
God exits, and Death sees Everyman walking along, “finely dressed”. Death approaches Everyman, and asks him where he is going, and whether he has forgotten his “maker” (the one who made him). He then tells Everyman that he must take a long journey upon him, and bring with him his “book of count” (his account book as per God’s “reckoning”, above) which contains his good and bad deeds.
Everyman says that he is unready to make such a reckoning, and is horrified to realize who Death is. Everyman asks Death whether he will have any company to go on the journey from life into death. Death tells him he could have company, if anyone was brave enough to go along with him.
Fellowship enters, 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”. Everyman describes the journey he is to go on, and Fellowship tells Everyman that nothing would make him go on such a journey. Fellowship departs from Everyman “as fast as” he can. Kindred and Cousin enter, Everyman appeals to them for company, and they similarly desert him.
Everyman next turns to his “Goods and richesse” to help him, but Goods only tells him that love of Goods is opposite to love of God. Goods too forsakes Everyman and exits. Everyman next turns to his Good Deeds, but she is too weak to accompany him. Good Deeds’ sister Knowledge accompanies Everyman to Confession, who instructs him to show penance. Everyman scourges himself to atone for his sin. This allows Good Deeds to walk.
More friends – Discretion, Strength, Beauty and Five Wits – initially claim that they too will accompany Everyman on his journey. Knowledge tells Everyman to go to Priesthood to receive the holy sacrament and extreme unction. Knowledge then makes a speech about priesthood, while Everyman exits to go and receive the sacrament. He asks each of his companions to set their hands on the cross, and go before. One by one, Strength, Discretion, and Knowledge promise never to part from Everyman’s side. Together, they all journey to Everyman’s grave.
As Everyman begins to die, Beauty, Strength, Discretion and Five Wits all forsake him one after another. Good Deeds speaks up and says that she will not forsake him. Everyman realizes that it is time for him to be gone to make his reckoning and pay his spiritual debts. Yet, he says, there is a lesson to be learned, and speaks the lesson of the play:
Take example, all ye that this do hear or see
How they that I loved best do forsake me,
Except my Good Deeds that bideth truly.
Commending his soul into the Lord’s hands, Everyman disappears into the grave with Good Deeds. An Angel appears with Everyman’s Book of Reckoning to receive the soul as it rises from the grave. A doctor appears to give the epilogue, in which he tells the hearers to forsake Pride, Beauty, Five Wits, Strength and Discretion – all of them forsake “every man” in the end.