Everyman | Study Guide

Anonymous

Download a PDF to print or study offline.

Study Guide
Cite This Study Guide

How to Cite This Study Guide

quotation mark graphic
MLA

Bibliography

Course Hero. "Everyman Study Guide." Course Hero. 14 June 2019. Web. 17 Aug. 2022. <https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Everyman/>.

In text

(Course Hero)

APA

Bibliography

Course Hero. (2019, June 14). Everyman Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved August 17, 2022, from https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Everyman/

In text

(Course Hero, 2019)

Chicago

Bibliography

Course Hero. "Everyman Study Guide." June 14, 2019. Accessed August 17, 2022. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Everyman/.

Footnote

Course Hero, "Everyman Study Guide," June 14, 2019, accessed August 17, 2022, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Everyman/.

Everyman | Themes

Share
Share

Salvation

Salvation is both the central theme and the plot of Everyman. The story itself is an allegory for the path of a human soul to salvation. It is intended as moral and religious instruction for the audience.

God's concern that Everyman has not yet earned salvation is the impetus for the play's action. The story follows Everyman as he turns away from mortal concerns toward heavenly virtues. When Death first finds Everyman, he is comedically ignorant of his spiritual obligations, having focused on pleasure and wealth throughout his life. He has not considered death or his soul.

Fear of death and of judgment spur Everyman to go to his worldly friends and possessions, but none of them will help him. Through this trial he comes to realize how much he has neglected spiritual matters. Goods in particular chides Everyman for the emphasis he put on wealth during his life. Goods says if Everyman had loved him less, Everyman would be in a better position with God. When Everyman accuses Goods of having betrayed him, Goods points out he could never have corrupted Everyman if Everyman had not been so greedy. This is a rude spiritual awakening for Everyman.

Everyman turns to his neglected spiritual side, seeking out Good-Deeds, who is faithful and true but too weak to help him. However, her sister Knowledge guides him. He must show humility before Confession and endure his penance with patience and fortitude. Through this process, Everyman undergoes a spiritual evolution and finds himself genuinely glad where before he had been in mortal terror. Everyman gains earthly virtues and participates in the sacraments of the church. As he secures his soul and grows closer to God, he takes greater comfort in God's plan despite his mortality. Finally, he declares himself ready to die.

In the end, Everyman goes willingly to God, having cleansed himself of his wrongdoing, and is accepted into Heaven. Left behind on Earth, Knowledge rejoices in his salvation.

Throughout the play the moral is repeated to ensure the audience gets the message: their souls are in the same peril as Everyman's unless they mend their ways. They will need to have their good deeds in order and the blessings of the church. If they have, through the mercy of God, salvation is available to every man.

Impermanence of Worldly Things

Everyman is ultimately a play about mortality. Everyman is initially motivated by his fear of Death. However, he finds again and again that those mortal things he has relied on abandon him at the hour of death. "Take example," he says to the audience at one point, "all ye that this do hear or see / How they that I loved best do forsake me." This impermanence is always presented in contrast to the eternal rewards of heaven.

When death is discussed in the play, it is referred to as a pilgrimage rather than an end. Death talks about it as a journey from which Everyman cannot return. Throughout the play Everyman seeks something he can bring with him into the afterlife. The answer is only his Good-Deeds, but the search illuminates many who will not or cannot join his voyage.

The first group of companions Everyman fails to bring with him are his worldly concerns: Fellowship, Kindred, Cousin, and Goods. All of these betray Everyman despite their proclamations of support and turn out to have been false friends. His friends and family refuse to join him in adversity, and Goods reveals himself to be a trap for mortal souls. Goods in particular addresses his relationship to a mortal and dying Everyman. He makes clear he will stay in the world after Everyman leaves it and go into new hands, just as he came to Everyman's.

As Everyman grows in his spiritual understanding through Knowledge and Good-Deeds, he gains new companions: Beauty, Strength, Discretion, and Five-Wits. These characters represent virtues Everyman possesses as a good man. However, in the end they must also leave him as his mind and body fail and he goes to his grave. Though it has been a good thing for him to earn their companionship, it cannot last. Everyman responds to this with hurt, much as he did with his worldly friends. He had come to trust them. Yet, they were things of the world and will not pass into the afterlife.

However, in the end, Everyman can take nothing with him but the good deeds he has done. It is Good-Deeds who will argue for his salvation. Even Knowledge must stay behind.

Importance of the Church

Though good deeds are the mechanism of Everyman's salvation, his redemption would be impossible without the Church. His redemption begins with Confession and penance and continues in the form of the holy sacraments. The power and obligations of priests are discussed at length by the two characters representing the ability to know and think. Five-Wits declares

The priest bindeth and unbindeth all bands,
Both in earth and in heaven;
Thou ministers all the sacraments seven ...
No remedy we find under God
But all only priesthood.
Everyman, God gave priests that dignity,
And setteth them in his stead among us to be;
Thus be they above angels in degree.

By giving priests the power to administer the sacraments, God has made them the keepers of human souls. They are the only people who can absolve the sins that bind Good-Deeds. Though Knowledge comes to Everyman before he participates in religion, she directs him toward it with enthusiastic support. Without the work of the Church, Everyman would not have been able to get into heaven even if his good works had been more robust.

Though the play emphasizes the need for the audience to focus on good works as the path to salvation, it also acknowledges the vital importance of religion.

Cite This Study Guide

information icon Have study documents to share about Everyman? Upload them to earn free Course Hero access!