Everyman-a Medieval Play Review Essay
Everyman-a Medieval Play Review
Summary Everyman is a play which was written to express the importance of morality, to whoever read it or experienced it being performed on stage. Some scholars say that it was written sometime in the late 1400’s, while others insist that it is a translation of a Flemish work called “Elckerlijc”, which was written by Peter van Diest in 1495. Everyman is an allegory play which is heavily based upon Christian religious perspectives; also it is resoundingly similar to the Christian belief of the resurrection of Christ, and his ascension into Heaven, after the crucifixion.
The first act of Everyman, opens with a prologue which takes on the form of a messenger, telling the audience about the fate which is to come to Everyman. The messenger goes on to tell the audience that eventually God will call upon all of humanity to stand before him, and give account of their works which they had wrought in life. The next part of the play is God calling upon Death, to go and bring Everyman to stand before him. God commands Death to go and bring Everyman before him, so that he may give account of his own misdeeds that he has wrought in life. So Death goes and finds Everyman, and tells him that his time has come.
Everyman then attempts to bribe Death with a thousand pounds, but Death refuses. However, he states that he will allow Everyman to bring someone with him, so that he does not have to face his judgment alone. Everyman first goes to Fellowship, whom represents friends and companions; and asks him to accompany him to go and stand before the judgment God. Fellowship, whom had promised to stand besides Everyman through whatever may come; tells Everyman that he will not go with him to the grave, because he fears Death and the judgment of God. Everyman is heartbroken, but then goes on to the next in line.
Everyman then goes to Kindred and Cousin, which are supposed to represent family and kin; but they too tell him that they will not accompany him on his way to the grave. Thirdly, Everyman turns to Goods, which represents material possessions; nonetheless she also states that she will not go with Everyman to his final judgment. Everyman is very concerned by this point, and so he turns to Good Deeds for companionship. Good Deeds states that she will go with Everyman to face his judgment with him; but unfortunately she lacks the strength for such a journey, because Everyman has neglected her throughout his life.
Good Deeds tells Everyman that he must then go before her sister, Knowledge; for she will know the way in which Good Deeds may regain strength. Upon meeting Knowledge, she tells Everyman that he must go before Confession; and there Everyman confesses his sins. Afterward, Confession gives Everyman a “jewel” called Penance; which cleanses Everyman of his sins, so that he may stand before God and not be in jeopardy of damnation. With his confession behind him, Good Deeds regains his strength, and is ready to accompany Everyman to the grave.
Knowledge then tells Everyman to gather together his attributes of life: Beauty, Strength, Discretion, and Five Wits; so that they too may accompany him to his reckoning with God. But when Everyman gathers them together, they tell him that they will not go with him to the grave; essentially because they are all characteristics of youth, which are all now fleeting from him, as he has the end of life. With that, Knowledge, and Good Deeds accompany Everyman to his final reckoning with God.
There enters the character Angel; Knowledge then attests to Angel that Everyman was a good and just person, and in the end, he confessed his sins before God. Then Everyman and Good Deeds go down into the grave, and thus make their way to stand before God in the final judgment of Everyman. Fundamentally, this play ends with the character, Doctor, stating that all accept Good Deeds and Knowledge will all flee from a person, when they go before God for their final judgment. *** Issues in Raised in Key Resources There are several key issues which were raised by the scholars that wrote the major resources which I used to write this report.
This play has received a moderate amount of popularity over the past near 500 years; and now today there are some scholars and researchers whom are exceptionally critical, both positively and negatively, of the details as to how it was written. One criticism of note would have to be one which was voiced by Thomas F van Laan. In referring to the general premise of Everyman, he contends of the writer that “His speech is essentially negative; he focuses solely on the inevitability of death and the destructiveness of sin”.
Simply put, Mr. van Laan is stating that at first, the sole purpose of this work appears to emphasize specifically on death and how mankind should feel only sorrow for anything that they do, which goes against the teachings of Christianity. Another criticism of this work which Mr. van Laan refers to is the point in the beginning when God first speaks. Mr. Van Laan states: “Gods words are wholly negative in force, implying only the difficulty to come, omitting any indication of hope for mankind”.
Mr. van Laan is voicing this criticism on the opening section of the play, fundamentally about how he considers Gods words to be too negative in their approach. In expressing this condemnation, Mr. van Laan is adamant about his beliefs that God would probably not be so disconcerting in his approach to dealing with mankind.
However not all that Mr. van Laan has to say about Everyman is negative in nature. He goes on to shed light on the allegory nature of the play, and how this lends credence to its being a unique, legitimate work of theater. He contends that “The first movement, is a falling action, which traces Everyman’s’ decline in fortune.
This shatters the apparent serenity of his life, to the depth of his despair…fallowed by the second movement, a rising action, which carries him from this nadir unto his final salvation…which is symbolized by the words of the welcoming Angel”. It is my belief, that essentially what Mr. van Laan is stating, is that by using actual characters to personify the specific aspects of human nature; the persona of the play becomes a two-fold endeavor. Firstly, by the characters being literal representations of human qualities; they achieve a form of realism, which is normally only conveyed through the use of spoken dialog.
Secondly, the movement’s themselves-transpiring from a state of utter despair, to a state of harmonious bliss; is not only characteristic of all great works of drama, but also of life itself. Throughout Mr. van Laan’s review of Everyman, he states his opinion that by the author using characters to represent the individual aspects of human identity; the play conveys a form of realism, which is distinctly unique.
Next brings us to the arguments made by the researcher Roger A. Ladd. His belief is that this play was not written for the everyday person, but was in fact written to be a work which would have been performed for the “bourgeoisie”.
His reasoning stems from research which had been done by scholar Dorothy Wertz; the same scholar who also believes that Everyman was probably written strictly to be performed for the elite rich. In her research, Mrs. Wertz points to the fact that “by simply examining the vocabulary and phrases used in the original piece, one can determine whom the play had been written for”. In that, she states that “the wording itself would have been too formal for ordinary citizens of the time period to ascertain”. However, unlike Mrs.
Wertz, who believes that Everyman is specifically nothing more than a direct translation of Elckerlijc; Mr. Ladd assumes that it is an amalgamation of Elckerlijc and other English literary customs of the era. Mr. Ladd’s purported theory was reached in part, by investigating the traits of the character “Goods”, and comparing them with the English anti-mercantile satire traditions which were popular in the late-medieval period. An example of which being, that in the Germanic-Dutch based Elckerlijc, Goods is described as appearing as “Neglected, rusty.
. . heaped up, filthy”. However in Everyman as Mr. Ladd purports, Goods appears in a more English anti-mercantile manner as being “trussed and piled so high, and in chest I am locked so fast, also sacked in bags”. The Everyman description, falls in line with the late-medieval literary tradition of anti-mercantilism; which according to Mr. Ladd, comes as proof that Everyman could not have been strictly just an English translation of Elckerlijc. Another scholar whom is acquiescent in his research of Everyman is Lawrence V. Ryan. Mr.
Ryan takes an approach, which seems to be more about discerning the religious implications of the play Everyman. The first point that Mr. Ryan makes is that ”Without theology, the artistic merit may not be fully appreciated…that the theology involved is indispensable, not indefensible, and furthermore, that it gives the play its characters, structure, significance, and even its dramatic impressiveness”. One of the main points which all three scholars agree upon is that by being deserted by all those whom Everyman turns to for help; the audience develops a strong sense of pathos, for the plight of Everyman. Mr.
Ryan suggests that the emergence of these false-friend characters “all appear in a climactic order, according to the increased danger of each as a distraction from one’s Maker”. Finally, Mr. Ryan gives his opinion about the reason why all the characters that abandon Everyman, as well as Everyman himself, are all men; and why the only characters that accompany him are women. In essence, the logic behind this as Mr. Ryan contends is that “All men are born into a state of sin…and that for dramatic suspense; the author chose to have the only redeeming characters be women…to show that women can counteract this dogma”.
Personal Reaction to “Everyman” My personal opinion of this particular play is one of high appreciation. Unlike some of the reviews of scholars which I have read, which did not display too much positive reception for this work; I personally enjoyed reading it, and doing my report on this play. When I first tried to read the Old-English original version of this play, I found it incredibly hard to ascertain what exactly the meaning was behind what the author had written. Understandably it was difficult for me when trying to use the un-translated Everyman, as Old-English is a version of our language, which has been out-of-date for centuries.
When I found the translated version of Everyman on the Fordham University website and began reading it, I almost instantly thought that it had been a work which had been written by either someone whom was a priest, or had been another member of the Christian church in some capacity. Another notion which I had was that if the play had not been written by someone who was a church member, then it obviously had to have been written by someone whom had some form of agenda for getting people involved with the Christian church in some form or another.
Perhaps the author had a legitimate reason for wanting people to become more involved with the church or to become closer to god in some fashion. On the other hand, perhaps there was a more sinister motive; like getting more people into the flock of the church, in order to acquire more money flowing into their coffers. Personally, I think that it was a combination of both motives, and that whoever had wrote this play, also had a genuine interest in using a popular mode of expression.
Or perhaps the author wanted to show that by turning away from the sins of the flesh; that a person could attain a state of consciousness, which could bring them closer to a higher form of enlightenment. No matter what the personal objectives were for its creation, one thing remains clear; this was that the author of this particular piece was incredibly ahead of his time. From what I have examined in doing research for this report project; in reading other plays that date from the late medieval age, I can honestly say with a certainty, that I have not read anything that dates from this period, which is as unique as this.
The usage of human emotions and possessions being personified into literal characters is uniquely a modern notion; and from what I have found, does not appear to have been done in a theatrical piece until sometime around 18th or 19th century. This plot construction is something which I have seen in movies and television shows; which are much more recent, than something that dates from the late medieval period. One example that immediately comes to mind is Charles Dickens’ Christmas Carol; although not entirely the same in primary foundation, the underlying principle is similar.
Some of the scholars that I read about, that reviewed this work; were quick to dismiss it as being either frivolity, or simply nothing more than an act of religious propaganda. I have to disagree with both sides; I feel that this is a excellent illustration of late medieval/early modern era theatrical work, which will more than likely see its relevance come again. Summary of key scholarship on this play The first article which I used to review for this report on the play Everyman was a modern-English translation, of the late medieval original version of the play.
This particular article didn’t offer any insight into it, as in scholar reviews; but it was extremely helpful in writing my summary of the play. Without this article, I am not sure if I would have been able to do this research project on this particular play, as I would not have been able to even ascertain what it was about. The next article which I used to write this report was written by Roger Ladd. Mr. Ladd took a definitively scholarly approach to conducting his research.
Some of the main issues which he decided to confront were how the play Everyman deals with the religious implications of how material wealth corrupts the good intentions of mankind. Ladd went into detail, comparing the details of Everyman, to other plays of similar genera that date from the period. He explains about how most everyday citizens of the late medieval period, looked at the assemblage of material wealth, as the path to avarice, which puts their immortal souls in jeopardy.
Like many other scholars whom have written journals about the “morality plays”, Ladd believes that in order to find out whom the plays written for, one has to look into the wording of the work; by doing this, he states that it becomes apparent who the target was. For example Everyman, when the main character is forced to give up his worldly possessions; it is written to appear as if this could have been the most dastardly thing which could have occurred in his life. Other key scholarship reviews of this play, comes from the scholarly works of Lawrence V. Ryan.
Ryan takes an approach to his research, which is concerned with how organized religion is suspect in this play. One of his main thesis’ is about how in the play, Everyman attains salvation through his own works, and not by the salvation which comes from God. He talks about how many religious figures were quick to label Everyman as a work of unholy declarations; and that how many of these religious leaders informed members of their churches that they would be in danger of hell by going to watch a performance of Everyman. Ryan is perhaps the most non-forgiving of the three scholars that I chose to use.
Mostly, he tries to make it known that he is of the opinion that Everyman was only an English translation of the Dutch work Elckerlijc. He does not make use of very much authentic information to make this claim, he simply relies on paraphrasing works which had been written by other scholars. Next, I used the research from the scholar Thomas F. vanLaan. VanLaan goes into detail describing the individual characters of Everyman. Noteworthy, is how he explains the nature of these characters, and how they relate to the human experience.
Differing from the other scholars whom I referenced in this report, Mr.vanLaan gives a very logical accounting of why the author chose to incorporate inanimate human natures, as the title characters for this play. The choices for the human failings and material wealth, was carefully used to make the play appeal to nearly everyone whom would have watched its production.
An example being, of how Everyman had acquired material goods in his life, which would have appealed to the rich; while on the other hand, Everyman losing his material possessions would have gained the approval of the poor which might have been in the audience.
However, I never found one scholarly review, which did not offer at least one compliment about this great play. Endnotes *** Paul Halsall, Internet Medieval Sourcebook, “Medieval Handbook: Everyman, 15th Century”, Fordham University (August 1998) (Accessed on October 20th, 2010) http://www. fordham. edu/halsall/basis/everyman. html —The entire summary which I wrote was based upon the modern-English translation of Everyman, which was available online at the Fordham University site.