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Everyman - Part Two of Study Guide for "Everyman"

Everyman Seeks Salvation - Plot Summary Continued


Enter Knowledge and Confession:

Good-Deeds introduces Everyman to her sister, Knowledge – another friendly character who will provide good advice to the protagonist. Knowledge serves as an important guide for Everyman, instructing him to seek out another character: Confession.

Everyman is led to yet another character, Confession. This part is fascinating to me, as a reader, because I was expecting to hear a bunch of scandalous “dirt” on our main character. I was also expecting him to beg forgiveness, or at least apologize for whatever sins he has committed. Instead, Everyman asks for his vices to be wiped clean. Confession says that with penance Everyman’s spirit may become clean once more.

What does penance mean? Well, in this case it seems that Everyman undergoes a severe and purifying form of physical punishment. After he “suffers,” Everyman is then amazed to discover that his Good-Deeds are now free and strong, ready to stand by his side during his moment of judgment.

And the Rest:

After this purging of the soul, Everyman is ready to meet his maker. Good-Deeds and Knowledge tell Everyman to call upon “three persons of great might” and his Five-Wits (his senses) as counselors.

So Everyman calls forth the characters Discretion, Strength, Beauty, and Five-Wits. Combined, they represent the core of his physical/human experience.

What follows is an fascinating discussion about the importance of the priesthood.

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,
Than to any angel that is in heaven

According to the Five-Wits, priests are more powerful than angels. This reflects the prevalent role in medieval society; in most European villages the clergy were the moral leaders of society. However, the character of Knowledge mentions that priests are not perfect, and some of them have committed egregious sins. The discussion concludes with a general endorsement of the church as the surest path to salvation.

Unlike the first half of the play when he begged for help from his friends and family, Everyman is now relying on himself. However, even though he receives some good advice from each entity, he realizes that they will not go the distance as he journeys closer to his meeting with God.

Like previous characters, these entities promise to stay by his side. Yet, when Everyman decides that it is time for his body to physically die (perhaps part of his penance?), Beauty, Strength, Discretion, and the Five-Wits abandon him. Beauty is the first one to take a hike, disgusted by the idea of lying in a grave. The others follow suit, and Everyman is left alone with Good-Deeds and Knowledge once again.

Everyman Departs:

Knowledge explains that he won’t be going into the “heavenly sphere” with Everyman, but he will stay with him until he departs from his physical body. This seems to imply that the soul does not retain its “earthly” knowledge.

However, Good-Deeds (as promised) will journey with Everyman. At the end of the play, Everyman commends his soul to God. After his departure, an Angel arrives to announce that Everyman’s soul has been taken from his body and presented before God. A final narrator enters to explain to the audience that we should all head the lessons of Everyman. Everything in our lives is fleeting, with the exception of our acts of kindness and charity.

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