Play Everyman: Themes of Sin and Death

The messenger establishes sin and death as the play’s primary subjects and themes. By creating an early association between sin and death, the messenger reminds readers of the Christian viewpoint that Adam and Eve’s original sin is the reason for mankind’s mortality, and that, by contrast, leading a Christian life opens a pathway to eternal life in Heaven. Put in less overtly religious terms, the messenger establishes that the play will center around death as an occasion for reflecting on one’s life.

God establishes an opposition between virtuousness and “worldly prosperity” that will appear repeatedly throughout the play, as characters that represent various worldly goods and pleasures make appearances to lead Everyman astray from the path of righteousness. God’s sweeping statements about mankind’s sinfulness hint at one of the play’s main viewpoints: that mankind is inherently sinful. The “reckoning” to which God refers is both a process of judging people’s souls and a physical ledger of all the sins and good deeds people have committed.

Although it initially seems that Death sets out in search of all people who fail to live according to God’s law, he instead finds the character Everyman, making clear that Everyman is meant to symbolize “everyone.” He symbolizes all people, which also drives home that all people in the view of the play are sinful.

The fact that Everyman is surprised by Death’s arrival shows that sinful behavior is in part the product of an arrogant mentality that death will never come, and that one will never have to account for one’s behavior, least of all by compiling a list of every good and bad deed ever committed.

Here, Death alludes to the Biblical story of Adam and Eve, in which the first man and woman defy God’s commandment and are exiled from the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve’s sin represents the sinfulness that is a part of human nature, and which is (according to the story) the cause of man’s mortality. Therefore, death and sin are inextricably linked—but eternal life is available to those who are righteous and follow God. Death’s reminder that Everyman’s life was never given to him, but merely on loan, reinforces the play’s theme of humility, encouraging readers not to arrogantly take their own lives for granted, but to remember that God is all-powerful.

Although Fellowship seems at first like a trustworthy and compassionate character, he is—quite understandably—unable to die along with Everyman. This passage underscores Everyman’s dread of death as well as his selfishness (since he asks his friend to accompany him on a journey he himself does not want to take). It also shows that however dear one’s friends may be in life, people must ultimately face death and account for their sins alone. Everyman seems to hope that Fellowship will be able to rescue him from his fate, but Fellowship’s refusal to make the pilgrimage illustrates that as beautiful as friendships may be, they are not the key to salvation. Moreover, the author suggests that Fellowship actually stands in the way of Everyman’s righteousness by helping him pursue worldly goods when in fact Everyman would be better served by pursuing spiritual virtues.

This proverb underscores the selfishness and unreliability of people in general, presenting a sobering reminder of the difficulty inherent in Everyman’s search to find something of lasting and reliable value in life before making the journey to death. Forsaken by his friend, Everyman instead turns to seek the help and companionship of his family.

Like Fellowship, Cousin and Kindred also refuse to help Everyman or accompany him on his journey. The unwillingness of various characters throughout the play to perform the ultimate self-sacrifice stands, implicitly, in contrast to the figure of Jesus Christ, who did die to save the soul of mankind. Cousin’s excuse for refusing Everyman’s request is particularly pathetic, underscoring the unreliability of even the people who are (supposedly) one’s closest and most devoted relations. Friends and family, the play makes clear, offer no salvation.

07 July 2022
Your Email

By clicking “Send”, you agree to our Terms of service and  Privacy statement. We will occasionally send you account related emails.

close thanks-icon

Your essay sample has been sent.

Order now
Still can’t find what you need?

Order custom paper and save your time
for priority classes!

Order paper now