Characteristically, plays of that era were heroic, open air, subjective and allegorical. I am going to be analyzing the play Everyman to see how it engaged with the politics of it's day, namely the religious and didacticism of it. As for a moral play like Everyman, its Lenten austerity can hardly fail to impress any but the spiritually torpid. Medieval religious drama is valuable not only for itself, but as a preparation for the golden age of English drama.
The staging of the miracles and moralities (the use of a balcony, of unlocalized playing-space, mechanical effects, and music) and the freedom of the medieval playwrights in 'mingling kings and clowns' - all these things were part of the heritage of the great Elizabethan dramatists. (Cawley, 1956: xxii-xxiii) Here, Cawley is saying that a play like Everyman cannot fail to confer it's message across as the connotation is so lucid. Everyman had an uncomplicated structure that did not entail a lot in the way of cast or props on the stage. The image of Death was often dressed to look repulsive on the medieval stage.The denizens of Hell were solid, physically repulsive and acceptable on the stage only as comic figures, inevitably to be repelled and made to look absurd by the forces of righteousness.
' (Kinghorn, 1968: 73) Death is the one thing that Everyman fears most so in order for the audience to be frightened too, it was wise to represent Death in total hideousness. There are no records to show how the stage was set when Everyman was staged or even evidence of whether it was enacted or not, but we can easily assume it is of a very simplistic nature because the only stage directing we do have on record is very basic.In religious terms, death is seen as the ultimate punishment for those who are not righteous, those who not believe that they will have to face God for judgment. The character of Death represents the calling of the end of Everyman's life. We know that he works for God and that when Everyman tried to bribe him with money, Death says 'I set not by gold, silver, nor riches.
.. For, and I would receive gifts great, All the world I might get; But my custom is clean contrary. ' (l 125-129) Written around the end of the 15th century, Everyman was the 'artistic impression of religious truth' (Cawley, 1956: 195).Half of the cast was named according to biblical references (God, Angel, priest etc) and the others were named to metaphoric personas. The opening of the play features God, his Messenger, and Death.
This immediately draws the audience to a comprehensive religious state of mind. God informs the Messenger (but also us, the audience) that he is unhappy with the human race as they do not fear or appreciate him, 'How that all creatures be to me unkind, Living without dread in worldly prosperity:' (God, l23-24).The protagonist of the play is Everyman; he is the metaphor of the specific humans in this play that God despises, and with him, we travel to his eventual death. The Doctor that Everyman meets at the end of the journey, stresses the moral of the foregoing action in a final speech; 'Before God, he hath no help at all; None excuse may be there for every man. Alas, how shall he do then? For after death amends may no man make, For then mercy and pity doth him forsake. ' (Doctor, l 909-913) The message in this speech reveals the moral of the play.
As Kinghorn says in Literature in Perspective: Meda al Drama (1968), 'to forsake Pride, not to trust Beauty, Five Wits, Strength and Discretion who abandon Man at his ending, and to remember that only Good Deeds will go with him to the grave. ' Everyman had wealth and beauty but he was conceited and a coward; we learn this through his acquaintances with 'people' in his civilization who infact represents the traits and qualities which he himself owns also. In turn, they all abandon Everyman in his time of need; this reveals for him self a self-discovery of what is ultimately the most important thing in life, good deeds.God decides to send Death to tell Everyman that he has been summoned to see him to give an account of his life and instantaneously, we sense Everyman's fear and reluctance to abide by his orders. He pleads with Death that he is not ready to die and offers a thousand pounds if Death will acquit him but Death refuses but allows him a friend who will be willing to go on the journey with him. The dialogue is very easy to follow, Everyman is in a state of distress and when queried about why he is like that, he tells them and asks if they would be wiling to share his experiences with him but they refuse to:Cousin Everyman, farewell now, For verily I will not go with you.
Also of mine own an unready reckoning I have to account; therefore I make tarrying. Now God keep thee, for now I go. (Cousin, l 373-377) The quote above teaches us that even our own family will not come with us when we die, this is the harsh reality of life and Everyman learns this the hard way. He thought that having riches may benefit him, but Goods abandons him to literally go to find another 'victim', so does, Five Wits, Discretion and Fellowship etc.When watching this play the audience knows instantly the moral of this play, it is very didactic and easy to follow.
We feel throughout the whole play that Everyman's fate is doomed, we know there is no way for him to escape his death and we hope that he will repent his sins and realize the error of his ways. ... the coming of Death, in which prosperity and defiant security abruptly collapse, Man repents and dies in piety.
... the transitoriness of life and the immediacy of death, portrayed realistically on the stage, they make their lesson immediately and sometimes harshly felt.
.. hich makes earthly values ultimately worthless. (Kinghorn, 1968: 113)The above quote was referred to as being the precise theme of Everyman. We understand that religious moral was at this time waning. These 'earthly values' are ultimately the things that will destroy mankind if he does not believe in God.
When he repents, we can feel the sins being 'lifted' and therefore mankind, or in this case, Everyman, only needs to repent. In a way, we are learning what we should already know.During the period of Everyman, dramas featured heavily on the religious moralities of life and also other aspects such as social status, gender conflicts and politics. Everyman is mainly just steered towards religious issues rather than gender or social conflicts.
Everyman is both didactic and allegorical as it 'teaches' but also has the primary/secondary meaning underlying throughout. The allegorical plot of Everyman goes as follows; Death demands the account book from Everyman, but he loses his companions: Fellowship, Kindred, Cousin, Goods and Good Deeds.Good Deeds is bound to the ground by Everyman's sins 'Here I lie, cold in the ground; Thy sins hath me sore bound, That I cannot stir. ' (Good Deeds, l 486-488) Everyman makes confession to the priest and his Good Deeds are liberated; 'Knowledge, give me the scourge of penance; My flesh therewith shall give acquittance:' (Everyman, l 605-606). 'I thank God, now I can walk and go,' (Good Deeds, l 619). Knowledge gives Everyman a 'garment of sorrow' and advises him to seek out a priest and receive extreme unction.
Everyman's body progresses towards his grave and he loses Beauty, Strength, Discretion, Five Wits and Knowledge, who remains ma while; 'Nay, yet I will not from hence depart, Till I see where ye shall become' (Knowledge, l 862-863). Good Deeds descends into the grave with Everyman whilst Knowledge hears the singing of angels who welcomes Everyman and tells him his 'reckoning is [crystal] clear' (Angel, l 898). Finally, the Doctor recounts the Moral. (The Net's Educational Resource Center, 2002)Many of the actors in this play pretended to be abstract principles of society and this can be seen as a radically non-realist form of theatre. However, it works really well as these were infact the conventions of the day. The didacticism of the play does not overshadow the entertainment and at the same time, the moral of the play drives to the moral conclusion.
The bare medieval stage allowed the audience to appreciate just the language rather than think about the fictional space on stage. Everyman is not just a story about one man but the allegorical level of it looks for a secondary meaning, which is of a religious matter.