Faustus, who sees his time also coming to a close, becomes a kind of Hamlet-figure and doubts that he can be forgiven. Faustus' problem is more than a life of misdeeds -- it is a problem of lack of faith. The faith of Everyman may have been lukewarm, but it was not corrupt. The faith in the time of Everyman has been polluted by Lutheran and Calvinist doctrines.
Considering the form of the narrative, this is not surprising: Faustus is obsessed with fame and renown. Everyman has no name proper -- and neither does his author. That the author of the medieval morality play should be anonymous is nothing out of the ordinary, and indeed seems all the more fitting when one considers that the second most printed book after the Bible was The Imitation of Christ, a work whose author never put his name on the original (and which was only later attributed to Thomas a Kempis).
Like Everyman, the Imitation (which preceded it by a century) contains the fundamentals of a theology that shaped Western civilization from the adoption of Christianity by the kings and Emperors of the West to the wholesale rejection of Christianity by the Age of Enlightenment that followed Protestantism. Both works view life not as an end in itself, but as having its end in God: Christians who fail to pursue this end (through good works, and -- most importantly -- good use of the sacraments, such as penance) set themselves in danger of dying without the life of grace in the soul. This life, better known as sanctifying grace -- or the life of God in the soul -- was all that mattered: as Everyman learns, not riches, nor fellowship, nor strength, beauty or knowledge can secure eternal salvation: but rather it is only those good deeds which lead one to contrition and penance that gain Everyman his eternal reward with God. The medieval world saw in death the moment of judgment: therefore, death was the final reckoning -- and one's life ought to be lived with death ever in mind.
Death, in fact, was considered to be one of the four last things (Heaven, Hell, Death, Judgment), made a significant portion of the Spiritual Exercises of the Counter-Reformation priest and founder of the Jesuits, St. Ignatius of Loyola. Ignatius would have been a contemporary of Everyman and no doubt of spiritual affinity. Everyman was first published in 1529 and may be supposed to have circulated the countryside stages of England for some time prior to that date. Henry VIII was not excommunicated until the 1530s (and before that had in fact been given the title of Defender of the Faith for his attack on Luther's treatise against the sacraments), and so Everyman's England was a Catholic England. Thus, it is no stretch to imagine that Everyman would not have understood the four last things: they were part and parcel of Christian doctrine. Both Everyman and the Spiritual Exercises were reminders of the necessity of putting Christian doctrine into practice -- nothing more nor less. Christ had redeemed mankind -- Everyman who believed in Christ was to be held accountable.
Faustus, however, has not had the same education: he rationalizes religion to the point of absurdity so that he may abandon it without compunction. " 'The reward of sin is death.' That's hard… 'If we say that we have no sin we deceive ourselves, and there's no truth in us.' Why then, belike we must sin and so consequently die. / Ay, we must die an everlasting death. / What doctrine call you this… 'What will be shall be?'"
Faustus, at this point, is playing only an intellectual game -- his is no serious examination of the Calvinist doctrine of predestination. His is, rather, an excuse to sin: all must die, therefore, all are sinful; therefore, go sin -- have fun. That is what Faustus gleans from his spiritual reading: it is a willful disregard for the same spiritual commentators' admonitions to flee sin. Faustus, like Everyman, strays from the path of righteousness. Unlike Everyman, he sacrifices spiritual assistance for intellectual pride -- and in doing so gets a spiritual devil in the form of Mephistopheles.
The Way to Salvation
While Death serves as the messenger of God, who summons Everyman to render an accounting for his life, Everyman turns to look for someone to accompany him into the afterlife, to help give a good accounting: but it is only Good Deeds who offers to go with him. Of course, Good Deeds, the personification of the scant good works actually effected by Everyman throughout the course of his life, is so weak and cold that he speaks from a ditch on the side of the road in which he lies. Good Deeds does, however, point Everyman to Knowledge who in turn points him to Penance. Penance restores Everyman to a life of sanctifying grace -- as medieval Church doctrine teaches -- and Everyman is fit to come before God. Death, therefore, is viewed as a reminder of the primacy of importance of the spiritual life in Everyman. Death performs the same function in Faustus -- and as the moments tick off Faustus' life at the end, he repeatedly cries to Heaven -- yet doubts Heaven's ability to save him. Instead, he pleads to Lucifer: "Ah, rend not my heart for naming of my Christ! / Yet will I call on him: O. spare me, Lucifer!"
Faustus resorts not to Penance, but to Hell and it is to Hell that he departs. The Chorus then arrives to extol the audience not to follow after Faustus' bad example. Thus, we may view Faustus as an anti-Everyman, even as the drama finds its roots in the medieval morality play of that same name.
Hardin Craig illustrates this fundamental principle of the medieval morality play: "The doctrine of man's salvation is the oldest and most clearly defined of all Christian doctrines, and is the oldest morality theme."
If the author of Everyman had anything to say of Death, it was said succinctly by God, who sends Death to Earth so that His doctrine of salvation might be put into practice: after all, it is Death who brings Everyman back to himself, who compels him to make a journey wherein he realizes that no accounting may be made that does not first began with sacramental grace. Death kindly gives Everyman some time to sort out his affairs -- that is to say, Everyman is afforded time enough to quickly figure out what is most valuable before he must finally crawl into his grave to die.
Like the Doomsday play, Everyman gives no immediate sense of time nor place: but the eschatology of the drama certainly dates it to the time when such eschatology was commonly held and believed. David J. Leigh notes how the medieval morality plays (like Everyman) easily "represent an event which is beyond historical time and space, on the margin of eternity."
What is interesting to note, however, is that whoever wrote Everyman was providing an artistic and dramatic window into the soul of England just prior to the Protestant Revolution that turned England from a Catholic country into a Protestant. The significance of death to Catholic England would have been no different from Death's significance in Everyman: a prelude to judgment by God -- a cause for much greater concern than mere death, which was nothing more than a mere passing from the finite world to the infinite. To Marlowe's England, it something much more gothic -- much more haunted. If Everyman could escape his ghosts through Penance, Faustus could not.
David Kaula writes that "Everyman is undoubtedly the most skillful example of the morality play that has survived T.S. Eliot claims that is perhaps the one play in which 'we have a drama within the limitations of art' -- meaning, I gather, that nothing in the play is extraneous to the central homiletic purpose, that all elements of style, structure, and theme are governed by the conventions of allegory."
That Everyman acts as a kind of homily -- or sermon -- on one of the four last things (Death) makes perfect sense: the medieval mystery plays were, after all, deeply connected to religious service -- just as the stage in ancient Greece was rooted in divine worship. If the author's purpose may be divined (and the fallacy of authorial intent not be ascribed to our divination), we might support the thesis that the author's view of death as medieval Christendom viewed it -- as a precursor to Judgment -- is more than evident in the work itself. Death Itself speaks to Everyman thus: "Everyman…whither art thou going… Has thou thy Maker forgot? & #8230;A reckoning he will needs have…"