You can’t take anything with you, so leave behind only good deeds. As far as morality messages go, this play teaches the most basic of them all. Nothing, not knowledge or money or power or influence will aid you when death comes to judge you. Only what you have done to others, your deeds, whether good or bad, will be able to color your heart and soul and allow you or deny you entry into the best afterlife.
About the Play
The protagonist is named Everyman, a representation and a call out to all who view this play that this is a message for us. In this short play, a messenger of Death comes to tell Everyman that his time has come. Problem is that Everyman hasn’t done a damn thing to prepare for the Day of Judgement. He’s been living a contented life of self-indulgence and pleads to have more time. Death is like screw you buddy, your time’s up when your time’s up, no extensions. It’s not my fault you wasted your life.
So Everyman tries to find a friend to come with him to face God. Yeah, that’ll go over well. “Hey wanna come die with me?” Lol. But off he goes anyway. He first goes to Fellowship which represents friends and colleges. Fellowship is sympathetic, but upon learning that death is coming, quickly abandons Everyman.
Everyman is like, whatever, who needs friends anyway? And turns to his family whom he is sure will not abandon him out of familial love and loyalty. But he is disheartened to learn that his family too, deserts him in his time of need because not even family wants to follow him into destruction. Next, Everyman turns to all the stuff he’s collected over the years. His luxuries and pleasures of life he’s enjoyed until now, Goods. As you may have guessed, Goods peaces out as well, giving the reason that because Goods can spoil and therefore can not travel with Everyman on his pilgrimage. Everyman has a good cry over his crappy connections.
Suddenly, Everyman thinks about the Good Deeds he’s accomplished and calls for them. But alongside his Sins, his Good Deeds are small in comparison. It seems that his failure to accomplish good works has left this part of him weak and it speaks to Everyman from the dirt in a small voice. Good Deeds tells Everyman that he needs to get some truth bombs from Knowledge and that dude might be able to help him out.
Knowledge appears with some advice and helps to prepare Everyman for the Confession of Sins. Everyman laments and regrets his past sins and because of this Good Deeds gets a power boost and joins Everyman from the dirt to accompany him on his journey. Good Deeds also tells him to call other good companions from his traits like Strength, Beauty, Discretion, and Five Wits who all can help him out before he ventures toward death.
All these traits are more than happy to help and follow Everyman to Death. But once the moment to be before Death arrives, Beauty ducks out, followed by Strength and one after another leaves except for Good Deeds. When an Angel comes to Everyman, because of his sincere confessions and his Good Deeds he is allowed into Heaven.
At the end a Doctor restates the moral. Do good deeds and repent your sins and you shall be allowed into the kingdom of heaven.
About the Playwright
Hrosvitha was a nun of noble birth who spent most of her life in a convent in Gandersheim. She wrote her six comedies in Latin approximately in 960. She wrote her works in an effort to counteract the pagan morality in classical works. Most of the plays were based on Terence but embodied Christian themes. They were to edify her sister nuns and were not to be compared to the vain pleasures of the more felicitous secular documents. They were not meant to be performed. They were discovered around 1500 by a German Humanist scholar who brought them to light. She wanted them to be read for education.
Her works included two chronicles – one on the feats of Otto the Great and the other on the history of the convent of Gandersheim from its founding in 856 to the year 919 where she lived. Gandersheim is a community of unmarried daughters of the high nobility, leading a godly life but not under monastic vows, which is the meaning of the “secular” in the title. So she was a “nun” but wasn’t a nun of the church as she never took the vows. In 877 King Louis the Younger placed the abbey under the protection of the empire, which gave it extensive independence. In 919 King Henry I granted it Imperial immediacy. This meant it had to give accommodations to German Kings and other nobles on their travels. It was a great property in the Ottoman Empire.
By all accounts, it appears that the playwright wrote this play to make people more interested in the church. She was trying to make “Everyman” or everyone to see that they needed to have good deeds to make it into heaven. It appears it was only performed in mass. It was written during a time when the church didn’t approve of these type of things. The Church was a big powerhouse back then and most of what they taught was the law. To question morality and have questions was a bit scandalous and although the message was clear that you must have Good Deeds, to suggest anything untoward about the church, that you might be able to buy your way into heaven would have been seen as almost sacrilegious.
With the message spreading that you need Good Deeds to get into heaven and that these alone would be able to save you, more people would be attracted to the church, which was having a hard time with gaining more followers.
While also being in a convent as she was, the playwright might have been questioning her own mortality and thus this play was simply an exploration and expression of the curiosity and questions we ourselves have of our own death and afterlife.