everymanThe Summoning of Everyman, 1480-1500? by Anonymous

Referred to as Everyman, this a morality tale in the form of a play, written sometime during the late 1400s by one or more anonymous authors (possibly monks or priests). The play was mounted frequently in the 75 years following its writing, though no records of any of the productions survive.

Everyman follows an individual (called Everyman) through a journey in which he meets allegorical characters along the way (Fellowship, Kindred, Cousin, Goods, Knowledge). The premise of the journey is that Death has come for the Everyman and he must account for his life at the end. Though he begs for more time, Death does not relent, though suggests that the Everyman may take a companion along for the journey.

As the principal character converses with each of the figures he meets along the way in his search for a companion, he must confront the reality that he is in the world alone, and in the end he will be judged on his good deeds. After much pleading and some redemptive action – the Everyman climbs into the grave with the female-embodied Good Deeds alongside him who will ascend with her into heaven.

The morality play was a popular form of entertainment in the late Medieval and early Tudor periods. As a pre-reformation morality play, the purpose of Everyman was to reinforce Catholic doctrine – as exemplified by the focus on “good deeds” in the salvation of the main character. Post-reformation morality tales such as the 17th century tale The Pilgrim’s Progress, were more often aimed at supporting Protestant theology and so placed emphasis on faith over good works as the qualifying expression of religious belief.