Everyman

Definition

Theater

  • The best surviving example of the English morality play.Written by an unknown author, it was apparently derived from the Dutchdrama Elckerlyc (1495), although some scholars have suggestedthat the English version came first. There is no original manuscript,but it was first performed in 1500 and first printed about thirtyyears later.

    The play is an allegory in which each character's significanceis defined by his name, such as Everyman, Confession, Kindred, etc.Its rough humour lies in the haste with which Everyman's false friendsand relatives abandon him once he is summoned by Death. He then fallsback on such virtues as Strength, Beauty, Intelligence, and Knowledge,who also fall away as he approaches the grave. The only virtue heretains is Good Deeds, the moral being that man can take nothing fromthe world but what he has given.

    Everyman was unperformed for centuries before WilliamPoel's Elizabethan Stage Society revived it in 1901. It is still performedfor religious purposes: John Gielgud recalled watching one such productionin the 1940s "on a very hard uncomfortable pew at a church offRegent Street".

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