Everyman is an English morality play written by an anonymous author in the late fifteenth century. It is an allegorical play and may have been based on an earlier Dutch morality play. In the beginning of the play, a foreword describes the message the story will portray. A messenger tells the audience that people should be good in life and look forward to death so they may go to heaven. When the story begins, God is unhappy with the people in the world and says these people are unkind to him.
God believes that they are only interested in secular riches and do not fear his justice. The seven deadly sins have become an accepted ritual in daily life. One man, Everyman, seeks only his own pleasure and does not thank God. God calls on Death to bring Everyman to him. Death tells God that Everyman is not expecting him yet, but God instructs Death to bring him anyway. When Death meets Everyman, he asks him why he has come. Death tells Everyman that he has forgotten God and is living a bad life. Death then asks Everyman to give his account of his life to God.
This life is mostly bad with a few good deeds. Everyman bribes Death to come back another day if he gave one thousand pounds. Death tells Everyman that the richest man would never die if he accepted bribes. Everyman continues to plead, asking if he could have another twelve years to turn his life around or if he could take someone with him. Death responds by telling Everyman that he is smart but hasn’t used his knowledge to change his life. Death then tells Everyman to go and see if anyone would come with him.
Everyman departs and tries to find someone to go with him. He calls upon Fellowship and asks if he will go. However, when Everyman tells Fellowship that he will never come back, Fellowship refuses to go with him. Everyman then calls upon his friends and kinsmen to go with him. He tells them that Death has come for an account of his life and that he can take someone with him. Kindred refuses to go, and Cousin claims he cannot go due to a cramp in his toe.
Kindred says that he will give Everyman his maid, and that she will go with him. However, Everyman realizes he has been deceived and leaves. He then finds Goods and Riches, and asks him to go along. Goods and Riches are packed away in chests and forgotten. Everyman tells him that money can make everything right, but Goods and Riches are too brittle to go. He tells Everyman that if he shared with the poor, he would not have to take this journey. He then accuses Everyman of being a thief.
Now Everyman realizes that Kindred, Cousin, Goods, and Riches have all forsaken him, and he must call upon the weak Good Deeds for help. Good Deeds is weak because he is never used. Good Deeds tells Everyman to do as he says, and he and his sister Knowledge will go with him on his journey. Knowledge says he must first go to confession and ask for forgiveness of his sins from God, which will be granted. Everyman asks for forgiveness, prays for Mary’s help, and salvation from his enemy, Death. Because Everyman goes to confession, Good Deeds and Knowledge will accompany him on his journey.
Everyman puts on a robe to show his forgiveness and believes that the three are ready to depart on the journey. However, Good Deeds tells Everyman that he must first meet with Discretion, Strength, Beauty, and Five Wits. These four also accompany Everyman on his journey. Knowledge tells Everyman that he must first receive the sacrament of Extreme Unction from a priest before he dies. During the Middle Ages, priests were believed to be all-powerful, above all men, and given the power to cure all. They were able to cure men’s redemption.
However, like Chaucer, the author of Everyman was aware that some religious figures led worldly and often lustful lives and used the play as an opportunity to satirize these clergy members. In the story, Knowledge gives a warning to these respected religious members. Finally, Everyman makes it to his grave where Discretion, Strength, Beauty, and Five Wits realize that their going along on the journey with Everyman meant death. All four quickly gave excuses to leave Everyman and did not embark upon the journey with him.
Good Deeds tells Everyman that earthly things are vanity, and that Good Deeds and Knowledge are good and remain forever. Everyman then gives himself to the grave in the presence of Good Deeds and Knowledge. In the end of the play, the Doctor tells the audience that only Good Deeds and Knowledge will help them when they are judged at death by God. If a person lives their life with courtesy and care, gains knowledge, and performs good deeds, they will be placed in heaven with God.