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    “Everyman” Literature Analysis (1046 words)

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    The allegorical play Everyman is one of the most prominent morality plays in the medieval theatre canon. Believed to be published around 1495, the author (who is unknown) tells the story of a man’s journey where he realizes he is alone with only his choices in life to accompany him (Jacobus 240). Since the play was written during the medieval period in Europe, it is heavily influenced on the culture and theatrical expectations of the time. Everyman, for example, is categorized as a morality play that promotes lessons and themes for its audience. This type of play was popular for the medieval theatrical scene because of the significance of religion in all aspects of life. Although culture and drama has shifted, the themes of such plays are still relevant today. In Everyman, readers follow a relatable protagonist on a pilgrimage where he is faced with characters and qualities that are still present in our current society. Characters and qualities like Goods can be seen as society’s constant need for more possessions and money, Beauty can be seen as modern-day social media, and Fellowship as the false friends who temporarily support each other through the internet. Through centuries of literature and drama, Everyman still holds its theme on society’s obsession with materialism rather than humanity. With themes like greed and religion, the play demonstrates long-lasting subjects that are carried throughout history.

    When studying Everyman, it is notable to look at the events taking place historically when it was written. The play is believed to be published at the end of the fifteenth century, which was also the end of the medieval period (Burt). Events in this period consisted of the fall of Rome throughout the Dark Ages, when there was no support in the field of the arts (Burt). The Roman Catholic Church dominated medieval Europe during these times and viewed theatre as pagan (Sturges). As a seemingly godless and pagan practice, the Church disagreed with it and banned its practices. In other words, “drama, or at least records of it, all but disappeared” (Jacobus 202). With the Roman Catholic Church taking over, religion became the top priority in all areas of the medieval life. In order to further promote religious activities and Catholicism, the Church used the people’s need for entertainment by bringing back theatre. Churches across Europe began a rebirth of theatre in a religious form. Performances of liturgical dramas took place “within or near the church and relating stories from the Bible and of the saints” (Britannica). Theatre was then associated as a practice that went hand-in-hand with the church as it was religious and based on morals.

    As church performances grew, the structures of the stories did as well. Drama began to be categorized, based on themes and plot of the performance. The four main types of plays that were performed were the passion, mystery, miracle, and morality play (Burt). Of the four plays, only one play did not specifically teach stories of and from the bible: the morality play. “They do not illustrate moments in the Bible, nor do they describe the life of Christ or the saints” (Jacobus 205). Instead, morality plays are dramas “in which the characters personify moral qualities […] or abstractions […] and in which moral lessons are taught” (‘Morality Play.’). Therefore, qualities of a morality play would include stories with a clear righteous message and everyday people facing challenges. Everyman is a great example of a morality play as it demonstrates those qualities, including its clear moral message told through allegorical characters.

    The allegorical storytelling of Everyman directly allows readers to understand the message it wishes to convey. As defined by the Merriam Webster Dictionary, allegories are the “expression by means of symbolic fictional figures and actions of truths or generalizations about human existence” (‘Allegory.’). Allegories are seen in Everyman as the characters he encounters on his journey. These characters are actually human traits and take on the qualities of the traits they represent, such as Beauty, Strength, and Five Wits (Jacobus 248). As readers see the protagonist interact with these characters, it becomes increasingly clear that they do not want to be at his aid, especially as he is inevitably faced with Death (Jacobus 250). In the end, the only characters that stay with Everyman until he goes into his grave are Knowledge and Good Deeds, which determines his fate into heaven or hell; Good Deeds explains this to Everyman in his final moments saying, “I will speak for thee” (Jacobus 251). Although this is clear to Everyman in the end, much like society today, he is too blinded by materialism to see this truth.

    A quality held highly by society is presented in Everyman through the most prominent materialistic trait, Goods. When Everyman is left alone by his family, he turns to his Goods and professes his love for his possessions:

    “All my life I have loved riches; / If that my Good now help me might, / He would make my heart full light. I will speak to him in distress- / Where art thou, my Goods and riches?” (Jacobus 244)

    Much like the protagonist, society has become infatuated with materialism. Whether it be owning a large house, nice car, or having limitless cash, people have made money a top priority in their lives. In a recent study done by psychologist Dr. Peter M. Ruberton, money is proven to have a correlation to a person’s happiness and well-being (Ruberton). Along with that, the media has glorified materialism and the possession of goods. Cultural aspects in society have been expressing this thought with mainstream music; “those who prefer [mainstream] music scored higher in materialism and conspicuous consumption than those who preferred to listen to music in other genres” (Podoshen). People have become so consumed with the idea of making money and flaunting their possessions that they end up in a cycle in which they make money, spend money, show off money, repeat. Much like Everyman, society believes that possession and goods will result in happiness and satisfaction which then prevents them from the truly significant things in life like Good Deeds and Knowledge. In this matter, it can be concluded that although Everyman and the modern day person are from different periods, this obsession with materialism and goods persists.

    One of the characters Everyman encounters on his journey is Beauty. When readers are first met with Beauty, they immediately ask Everyman what they can do to help him (Jacobus 248). The character does not say much in the few moments they spend with Everyman because as soon as they see he is going into a grave, Beauty leaves him behind (Jacobus 250). This event is a symbolic way of saying that the beauty of youth will eventually leave. In today’s society, much like Everyman, we cling onto beauty. Along with this, social media serves as society’s top influence in regards to how users view and compare themselves. Social media users show significantly “higher levels of body dissatisfaction, drive for thinness, internalization of the thin-ideal, body surveillance, self-objectification, and dieting” (Tiggemann). A recent study from the ‘American Society of Plastic Surgeons, revealed that Americans spent $16.4 billion on cosmetic plastic surgery in 2016, up from $9.4 billion in 2005” (Glass). This research further concludes the growing need and value we currently hold on this materialistic trait. In Everyman, Beauty is seen only for a few moments much like how it fades from life. Unfortunately, the longing for beauty is a common factor between the medieval protagonist and our current society.

    The first character that Everyman meets on his pilgrimage is Fellowship (Jacobus 242). Fellowship is seen as a friend who goes as far to say that they would “be slain for thee– though that I know before that I should die” (Jacobus 242). In the moments readers see the two interact, Fellowship shows his strong devotion for Everyman until his pilgrimage journey is revealed. “Whether yee have loved me or no, / By Saint John, I will not go” (Jacobus 243). Fellowship’s denial of Everyman leaves our protagonist alone where we see the theme of loneliness. Correlating this situation to the relevance of today, society is constantly presenting false relationships. Supporting friends is as simple as a ‘like’ on a social media platform and the different mediums in which you can contact a friend are limitless. “It is surprising then that, in spite of this enhanced interconnectivity, young adults may be lonelier than other age groups, and that the current generation may be the loneliest ever” (Pittman). Because of this ease of connection through the internet, social media users do not give much effort into pursuing relationships offline. This theme is germane today since people currently rely on their ‘friends’ to support them through online posts, but lack close relationships in real life. Everyman realizes that this friendship was a facade because not only did this character initially express loyalty, but was then the first to let Everyman down.

    Throughout Everyman’s journey, readers are introduced to allegorical characters that clearly portray the moral lesson of the play. Since the Roman Catholic Church controlled Medieval Europe at the time, pieces like Everyman were meant to teach the rights and wrongs of an everyday person’s life. As a piece written during this rebirth of theatre, Everyman represents the topics that were important to the medieval culture, making it a morality play. Although society and the style of drama contrasted greatly, the story of Everyman is still relevant. Themes like greed and religion are present in both the play and modern society. When reviewing the play it can be concluded that through centuries of literature and drama, Everyman’s portrayal of society’s obsession over materialism rather than humanity still holds true today.

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