Morality Plays Term Paper

Excerpt from Term Paper :

Death in Everyman

The concept of death is a very complicated and often morose subject when it is covered and analyzed through the interpretations and scenarios depicted in a play, let alone a play as prominent and chilling as Everyman. However, there is usually a point and moral to these sorts of plays and Everyman is no different. While the mood of the play is somber and perhaps instills or otherwise causes feelings that are uncomfortable to think about, Everyman drives home the point that no matter one's wealth, prestige and power upon death, about the only thing that can be taken with you to the other side are one's deeds, both good and bad.

Lack of importance of Five Wits

Lack of importance of physical traits

c. Lessons for believers and non-believers

Moral of the play


Death in Everyman

Death and leading a "good life" are two subjects that everyone debates internally and with others. What makes someone "moral" and "good" and the implications it has for the afterlife, for those that believe one even exists, is also hotly contested and considered. Passions get raised and tempers can flare but no hard answers exists one way or another when all is said and done. However, this does not stop the questions from being asked and they shall be for as long as humanity and our lives exist in any way, shape or form. While there are no firm answers to be had, there are strong lessons that even non-religious people should glean from Everyman (Jennings, 1996).


One's purpose in life is a subject that is roiled about, discussed, debated and tossed around with great vigor. Some of the debate is constructive and analytical while some of it turns vitriolic and caustic. Examples of the latter are when Christians condemn atheists or even agnostics to Hell while the atheists often respond by saying that life after death and/or Christianity in general is a "fairy tale" (Gervais, Sharriff & Norenzayan, 2011). Indeed, the script of Everyman does not get into that morass, but it still has a story to tell and a point to make. As noted in the introduction, the overall point and moral to Everyman is that one only has their deeds and their legacy when they die and pass on to the other side. The play makes it a point to assert and state that things like beauty, power and so forth are all things that fade away with time and are often not really around at all once one's proverbial number is called. Rather than the abstract formation of the above, the play Everyman takes on the more literal and tangible form. This is done through the calling of traits like the Five Wits, Beauty, Discretion and Strength. A precursor and foretelling of what is to come is shown when all of those extra traits above and beyond the aforementioned good deeds leave the main character when he takes the sacrament of communion. This is shown pretty clearly from the words that say that the other traits seep away when Death comes for someone. The importance of good deeds is also shown during and after the process whereby Everyman confesses his sins and places a scourge on himself (Jennings, 1996).

The point made is that the confession removes his sins and makes him worthy of entering Heaven were he to die at that moment. This is preceded by Everyman trying to get around the fact that his good deeds are not in order and not sufficient to get him safe passage to Heaven so he tries to take a shortcut to the life of Heaven by bribing death. Death tries to give him a way out by having a friend come along but his attempts to get a friend, in the form of his family, is met with a denial from the person he asks. As it turns out, Death was actually sent by God himself to collect Everyman and thus be required to make an account for his deeds and make clear whether he should be allowed to go to Heaven or not. This is what leads to Everyman initially trying to take a shortcut but he eventually finds his way and gets his safe passage (Jennings, 1996).

The author of Everyman is clearly making the point that the trappings of this life and this earth do not mean anything at all in absence of or instead of the good deeds that one engages in and completes throughout their life. All of the wealth, power and resources in the world cannot be taken with someone when they die. Obviously, when someone's number is up in terms of their life is not always known in advance but the author makes the point that taking the sacrament, engaging in confession, laying bare what they have done or left undone and so forth is the key to a moral life and an afterlife in Heaven. To be sure, the author crafted the play under the premise and presumption that Christianity/Catholicism is the true reality and environment of this life and what lays beyond. Death is treated as a passage either to Heaven or to Hell and that only good works and deeds are enough to get to the first rather than the latter (Jennings, 1996).

Even with the fact that this play is obviously from a Christian perspective, there are some facets of the depictions that are not completely in line with more modern Christianity, especially those that favor the New Testament. Indeed, one of the main premises of the New Testament is that man is inherently sinful and is unable to remove himself from his sinful condition and this is why Jesus died on the cross. Belief and faith alone is depicted in many parts of the New Testament as being the sole arbiter of whether grace is extended or not and that good deeds are not enough. Some even go further and assert that all sins are of equal standing and footing and that breaking one is breaking them all. This stands in contrast to the Old Testament whereby Hell is not really mentioned at all but the facets of Christianity such as confession, sacrifice and atonement are prevalent throughout the first part of the Bible (Holy Bible, 2011)(Jennings, 1996).

However, this play Everyman might be asserting a middle ground in that it could serve as a moral compass more for while a person is on the Earth rather than what faces a person when they die. It is easy to assume or surmise that one can worry about one's lot in life and confess as they lay dying and/or as their life comes to its eventual latter stages. However, as mentioned before some people leave this world quite suddenly and/or quite young. Rather than wait until the defined or assumed end to life, perhaps it is suggested that the aspects of Christian life such as confession, self-denial and good deeds should be worried about and engaged in throughout one's life because one does not know when the time will come and Death waits for no man, as noted by Death's refusal to give Everyman more time, only to allow a companion. Everyman later figures out that the companion is not going to help him and he absolves and comes clean with himself. This leads to another theme of Everyman and how death is depicted and that is the fact that no matter who is along for the ride during life, death is a journey that is travelled alone and the recitation of one's good and bad is strictly personal. When Everyman climbs into death, he does so only with his good deeds. He himself made it a point to shed Strength and Beauty as well as the Five Wits and stands and falls only on his good deeds and nothing else (Jennings, 1996).

To put a fine point on the message being made by the play, not only are good deeds the only thing that a person has when their life is looked at as a ledger that has accumulated the good and the bad over the years, it is also something that someone else (other than perhaps Jesus himself, when speaking of the context of the New Testament) can save him from. Again, this runs counter to a lot of what is found in the New Testament, but the larger point of not being in love with the world and what it can provide, albeit only while a person is still there, is a strong one and points to the idea of living a life of good works rather than selfishness and misguided pursuits. Leaving a legacy of power and beauty may seem attractive to some but if it leads to an eternity in Hell due to lack of good works or whatever the proverbial bar ends up being then it was hardly worth it at least in the eyes of many. To…

Sources Used in Document:


Allen, J. (2002). Plato: The Morality and Immorality of Art. Arts Education Policy

Review, 104(2), 19-24.

Gervais, W.M., Shariff, A.F., & Norenzayan, A. (2011). Do you believe in atheists?

Distrust is central to anti-atheist prejudice. Journal Of Personality And Social

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