274. Everyman (c. 1510-1530)

Another Christian allegorical story, ho hum …. but wait, this is easy to read and understand, and has a lot of nice phrases in its short number of pages. Actually very good. Very very good.

God sends Death to Everyman to summon him to account for his life. Everyman tries to delay Death who’s having none of it. Then Everyman looks for someone to accompany him, but each person/personification rejects him : Fellowship, Kindred, Cousin, Material Goods (It’s true, you can’t take the latter with you). He then turns to his Good Deeds but she is too thin and weak to offer much direct help. However, Knowledge leads him on to Confession which prepares him well.

Beauty, Strength, Discretion and his Five-Wits desert him in his final straits, but Good Deeds accompanies him to his grave where Everyman commends his soul to God.

My version was contained in The Norton Anthology of English Literature, 7th edition, volume 1, edited by M H Abrams and Stephen Greenblatt, 1999, pages 445-467. I suspect I will be turning to this hefty tome quite often in the next few years for short plays, poems and excerpts.

There was a very similar Dutch play called Elckerlijc written about the same time, and scholars have argued for years which begat which. It seems that the Dutch version is the original.

Favourite quotes/scenes:

There are lots to savour. Here are but a few.

(i) Death (to Everyman) :  “On thee thou must take a long journay. Therefore thy book of count with thee thou bring. For turn again thou cannot by no way …. For before God thou shalt answer and shew the many bad deeds and good but a few – how thou hast spent thy life” page 448

(ii) Knowledge : “Everyman, I will go with thee and be thy guide, in thy most need to go by thy side”  page 458

(iii) Everyman : “Alas I am so faint that I may not stand – my limbs under me doth fold! Friends, let us not turn again to this land, not for all the world’s gold. For into this cave must I creep and turn to earth, and there to sleep”   page 464

(iv) Good Deeds : “All Earthly things is but vanity”   page 465

(v) Doctor (speaking an epilogue) : “None excuse may be there for Everyman … For after death amends may no man make”   page 467.

Personal rating:  9/10, yes you read that right.

Other reading:  In the same volume I read The Second Shepherds’ Play, which is a mystery play like those of the York cycle I read earlier. This one was performed at Wakefield in Yorkshire, and is called the Second simply because there was an earlier play featuring the Shepherds of the Nativity in that cycle.

This was very entertaining as it was largely about the theft of a ram from the Shepherds by a roguish acquaintance Mak. He and his wife Gill attempt to disguise the grown animal as a babe in swaddling clothes. Eventually all is resolved and the three good shepherds are called to witness the baby Jesus in the Manger. Except that there was a word in every single line requiring a footnote, this would have scored higher than 6/10.

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