Everyman by Anonymous. The first known performance is recorded in 1510.
read this play in its entirety, at this link.
“You can’t take it with you”. We’ve all heard this saying, and we all know what it means. A close corollary is similar: “No man laments on his death bed: ‘I wish I’d spent more time at work’.”
These themes are expressed in the short play
Everyman, written by an anonymous author during the medieval period. You may recall that our children are studying medieval literature this year, and this most recent offering from their literary adventures is highly compelling. They’ve also read The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood, as well as King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table, which I may review at a later date.
Everyman outlines the journey that well, every man, must travel. To be born is to begin our sojourn toward the end of life. This might happen at a ripe old age, the best case scenario, or it could occur earlier. Whatever the day, it nearly always arrives at a most inopportune time.
When death comes to notify Everyman that his time is up, and that his end is imminent, he is understandably shaken. In his distress he implores death to give him more time, but is denied. The language is not modern, but flows more easily once you get the rhythm of it:
But to the heart suddenly I shall smite
Without any advisement.
And now out of thy sight I will me hie;
See thou make thee ready shortly,
For thou mayest say, this is the day
That no man living may escape away.
Once Everyman accepts the inevitability of his fate, he begins to take inventory. He wonders if he can take his possessions with him. Death makes it clear that his things were only loaned to him for this life. They are not his to take to the next life. At this point, all the elements of his life and humanity enter the picture. Fellowship, represented by his friends and acquaintances come first. They offer him whatever he needs, up to and including assisting in the darkest of deeds. So he asks them to come with him, but of course, Fellowship denies his request.
Now, in good faith, I will not that way;
But, if thou will murder, or any man kill,
In that I will help thee with a good will.
Oh, that is a simple advice indeed:
Gentle Fellowship, help me in my necessity;
We have loved long, and now I need,
And now, gentle Fellowship, remember me.
Whether ye have loved me or no,
By Saint John, I will not with thee go.
Everyman then encounters and entreats all of the elements of his life: Kindred, Strength, Knowledge, Beauty, Goods, and Wits. None can accompany him to what is next, save one thing. His good deeds make themselves known as well, and hold slightly more power than the rest of the elements of his life.
This is without question a “big C Catholic” play, but it its message is both universal and powerful. It’s a quick read, worth the 45 minutes. It is good for us to be reminded of the temporary nature of this world we so heavily invest in. Today more than any other, the urgency of this balanced view of life looms large. No one has lamented on her death bed, “I wish I’d cared more about political shenanigans”.
Take some time and give it a read. Whether you are religious or not, it speaks to the universality of our fragile existence and our ultimate lack of control over it all.