This play is probably the finest and best known of the morality plays of the Middle Ages that have come down to us. Consensus of critical opinion agrees that it is a translation from the Dutch made probably toward the end of the 15th century. Its popularity in England of that day is attested to by the fact that it was printed four different times early in the 16th century.
THE Lord God looks down on Everyman from on high. He sees that Everyman in his seeking for riches and pleasure has forgotten God and He is much displeased. He calls His messenger, Death, and bids him take to Everyman the message that he must go on a long journey; that he must prepare to make his accounting before the Almighty God.
Everyman is loath to leave this earth. He pleads that that he is not ready and offers Death a thousand pounds if Death will reprieve him. Death refuses saying that all the riches in the world might be his if he were open to such bribes. Everyman next inquires if he will be allowed to return after he has rendered his account to Almighty God. Death assures him that from the place to which he is going there is no returning. At last, however, Death consents that Everyman may try to find someone to bear him company on the journey.
Everyman first approaches Fellowship who inquires the cause of his sadness. Fellowship protests that he will do anything for Everyman even to avenging a wrong done him at the risk of his own life. When, however, Everyman invites Fellowship to join him in the journey of Death, Fellowship promptly declines and hastens away.
Everyman next bethinks himself of his kinsmen. Some one of them he reasons will make the journey with him, for blood is thicker than water. When the kinsmen find, however, that it is for the journey from which there is no returning that Everyman desires companionship, they beg to be excused. Everyman approaches his Worldly Goods with no better fortune. They assure him that they could only bring him straightway to Hell.
At last he recalls his Good Deeds. She is so weak and helpless by means of Everyman's neglect that she cannot stand. Only after Everyman is taken to Confession and does penance for his sins does Good Deeds get strength enough to accompany him. Good Deeds and Knowledge advise him to take with him on the journey Discretion, Strength, and Beauty, and, as counsellors, his Five Senses. Everyman receives the Last Sacrament and sets out on his journey with these companions. But when he actually reaches the grave, Beauty makes haste to depart and is promptly followed by Strength. At last only Knowledge and Good Deeds remain by his side. Good Deeds accompanies him to the Heavenly realm to plead his cause before his Maker, and Knowledge, remaining behind, hears the joyful songs of the angels.