Amani Ahmed

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God has become angry with his people. He complains in the fifteenth century English play Everyman about humans and their obsession with material items, riches, and wealth. Men and women, he feels, have taken for granted their blessings. God wants to reprimand Everyman for his sinful life and sends Death to summon him. At the beginning of the allegorical work where figures and actions symbolize general truths, a messenger shares God’s concerns. The messenger tells the audience to watch and listen closely to the morality play so they can learn a lesson about life. Everyman fears Death, and he desires to know what one must do to earn salvation and enter heaven. The writer then implies that the way to achieve salvation is by doing good works. Through positive deeds, a man has the capability of enjoying communion with Christ (McRae 306-307).

Everyman’s author wrote the play before the Protestant Reformation, so the piece of literature shares the view of Roman Catholicism during that period. Roman Catholics often rely on a spiritual leader’s interpretation of the Scriptures and some additional texts, while Protestants believe the Bible alone should studied by each individual believer. Biblical Christianity teaches something different from what Everyman does. The Bible stresses that salvation occurs through faith and belief in Jesus Christ and his sacrifice for humankind’s sins on Calvary’s cross. St. Paul in the book of Ephesians writes, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is a gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them” (2.8-10).

When Christians genuinely accept Christ as their savior and make him lord of their lives, they should express their beliefs by doing good works. Doing good deeds are an important part of the Christian life, but they do not grant an entrance into God’s kingdom. Everyman, as a morality play, does still have some Biblical truth and teaches a valuable lesson about life. Thomas J. Jambeck describes Everyman as a Bernadine humanism work, a work in which a man acts as “an active agent in the work of his own redemption” (109). William Munson echoes this idea, writing that Bernadine humanism gives emphasis to a person's motive, which is the reason why a person acts the way he does (252). Both authors agree that if knowledge is what a person uses to influence his or her actions, then good works in Everyman become the play’s central theme. Knowing what to do and doing it are necessary to accomplish good works (Munson 257-58).

Everyman shows the importance of Knowledge and Good Deeds acting together when he plurally addresses them when he says, "now friends, let us not part in twain" (Line 651). Good works become the result of the two working together. Since man has fallen after Adam and Eve's original sin, Murdow William McRae argues that a true Christian must "cooperate with grace; that is, he must live well in the life of grace in order to achieve heaven" (723). This statement implies that good works save people from hell and allow them to dwell eternally with God.

When Everyman learns of his pending death and judgment, he makes an effort to change his lifestyle. Since he does not have a secure relationship with God, he is overcome by the fear his potential eternal fate. Munson writes that Everyman "now understands the limitations of what he has previously reiled upon (and) the significance of his past purposes" (253). Munson points out that Good Deeds introduces Everyman to Knowledge, who in turn shows him what he should do to become a better person. This allows Everyman to realize that his sins have misled him, and he has not had a clear vision of how God wants him to act. Everyman admits his mistakes to his previously beloved Goods by saying "thou hast had long my hearly love;/I gave thee that which should...
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