Everyman Essay, Research Paper
Everyman the play is a lesson in correct or righteous behavior, thought, belief, and action for the common man of the day. The majority of the play is devoted to demonstrating how temporary everything in life is as death approaches, except good deeds. The play follows a pattern where, Everyman, the universal protagonist, pleads with a character, who is the physical embodiment of some worldly attribute, to go with him on a journey to his day of reckoning, which is followed by promises of allegience from the other characters ending in ultimate betrayal. The play takes one noticeable break from this pattern in order to take off on a tangent led by two of the earthy characters, Knowledge and the Five-wits. The choice to use these characters was probably no accident, and hopefully as we examine the lines from 706 to 769 we shall see why.
On line 706 Knowledge begins a discussion, or more accurately, a sermon on the usefulness and power of the priesthood. He begins
?Everyman, hearken what I say:
Go to Priesthood, I you advise,
And receive of him, in any wise??
and ?any wise? means at all costs. Here is an example in the play where the use of the allegorical figures starts to become transparent, and then the names of the characters spoken almost tongue-in-cheek. Therefore, the lines almost read, ?Everyman (in the audience), carefully listen to what I have to say: go to your priesthood (local clergyman), I you advise, and listen to him and follow his counsel, at all costs (through both physical and financial costs).? This counsel is then immediately backed up by Five-wits (line 713), who adds that there is no emperor, king, duke, nor baron that has been commissioned by God as the very least priest in the world has been. Not only does this statement help impress the importance of the clergy in ?everyman?s? life, but it also subtely works to help assert the dominance of the clergy over the ruling classes, which the ruling classes should allow if they want to follow God and live ?righteously.?
Five-wits goes on to explain the importance of the sacraments as keys to salvation, and how only the priest holds those keys. Everyman says he would gladly receive those sacraments, and then Five-wits bursts into a final glorification of the priesthood (lines 730-49) that includes suggesting that through the priesthood is the only way to salvation, and the priesthood has more power that the angles, and has more power to hold God?s flesh, and the power to damn people to hell or save them forever, and finally just saying that all of God?s blessings come through the priesthood and the priesthood only. The passage is so direct and has so many far-reaching implications, that the play right feels the need to immediately clarify some of those issues, and I feel I should include the passage here in its entirety.
?Everyman, that is the best that ye can do:
God will you to salvation bring.
For priesthood exceedeth all other thing:
To us Holy Scripture they do teach,
And converteth man from sin, heaven to reach;
God hath to them more power given
Then to any angel that is in heaven.
With five words he may consecrate
God?s body in flesh and blood to make,
And handleth his Maker between his hands.
The priest bindeth and unbindeth all bands,
Both in earth and in heaven.
Thou ministers all the sacraments seven;
Though we kiss thy feet, thou were worthy;
Thou art surgeon that cureth sin deadly;
No remedy we find under God
But all only Priesthood.
Everyman, Gad gave priests that dignity
And setteth them in his stead among us to be.
Thus be they above angels in degree.?
After this passage by Five-wits, Knowledge plays the devil?s advocate, and represents the audience, and begins, ?If priests be good, it is so, surely.? Then he asks, ?what about priests that sell these sacraments? Jesus did not charge us when he died on the cross. And, what about priests that chase after women, and live unclean lives, and have lust in their hearts?? Five-wits responds saying that he trusts God that there are none like that, and that we should therefore just honor our priests because they save us. They are the shepherds and we are the sheep, so we should just leave everything to them.
I find these passages in Everyman to be the most telling and illustrative of the role religion, and the clergy that went with it, played in the lives of Europeans in the middle ages and their art. This strict attempt to not only control the people of the time through religion but also not allow any reciprocal control over the clergy that governed, may have been the foreshadowing of the religious reform and diversification that would occupy the rest of the millennium, and is possibly only now subsiding.