Allegory, in literature, symbolic story that serves as a disguised representation for meanings other than those indicated on the surface. The characters in an allegory often have no individual personality, but are embodiments of moral qualities and other abstractions. The allegory is closely related to the parable, fable, and metaphor, differing from them largely in intricacy and length. A great variety of literary forms have been used for allegories. The medieval morality play Everyman, personifying such abstractions as Fellowship and Good Deeds, recounts the death journey of Everyman. John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, a prose narrative, is an allegory of man's spiritual salvation. Spenser's poem The Faerie Queene, besides being a chivalric romance, is a commentary on morals and manners in 16th-century England as well as a national epic. Although allegory is still used by some authors, its popularity as a literary form has declined in favor of a more personal form of symbolic expression (see symbolists).

morality play

morality play, form of medieval drama that developed in the late 14th cent. and flourished through the 16th cent. The characters in the morality were personifications of good and evil usually involved in a struggle for a man's soul. The form was generally static, but it contributed significantly to the secularization of European drama. The first known moralities were called the Paternoster plays. The greatest English morality is Everyman. See miracle play.

miracle play

miracle play or mystery play, form of medieval drama that came from dramatization of the liturgy of the Roman Catholic Church. It developed from the 10th to the 16th cent., reaching its height in the 15th cent. The simple lyric character of the early texts, as shown in the Quem Quœritis, was enlarged by the addition of dialogue and dramatic action. Eventually the performance was moved to the churchyard and the marketplace. Rendered in Latin, the play was preceded by a prologue or by a herald who gave a synopsis and was closed by a herald's salute. When a papal edict in 1210 forbade the clergy to act on a public stage, supervision and control of presenting the plays passed into the hands of the town guilds, and various changes ensued. The vernacular language replaced Latin, and scenes were inserted that were not from the Bible. The acting became more dramatic as characterization and detail became more important. Based on the Scriptures from the creation to the Second Coming and on the lives of the saints, the plays were arranged into cycles and were given on church festival days, particularly the feast of Corpus Christi, lasting from sunrise to sunset. Each guild was responsible for the production of a different episode. With simple costumes and props, guild members, who were paid actors, performed on stages equipped with wheels (see pageant); each scene was given at one public square and drawn on to its next performance at another, while a different stage succeeded it. Named after the towns in which they were performed, the principal English cycles are the York Plays (1430–40), the longest, containing 48 plays; the Towneley or Wakefield Plays (c.1450, in Yorkshire); the Coventry Plays (1468); and the Chester Plays (1475–1500). The Passion play is the chief modern example of the miracle play. The French mystère distinguished those plays containing biblical stories from those about the lives of the saints. The auto, the medieval religious drama in Spain, was acted concurrently with the secular drama throughout the Golden Age and into the 18th cent. Calderón was the greatest composer of the auto sacramental, which dealt with the mystery of the Mass in allegory. In Italy the laudi were basically choral in form and so distinguished from the later sacre rappresentazioni, which became lavish artistic productions comparable to the French mystère.
See K. Young, The Drama of the Medieval Church (2 vol., 1933); and anthologies ed. by A. W. Pollard (8th ed. 1927) and V. F. Hopper and G. B. Lahey (1962).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2005, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
Notes on Everyman
By far the best example of the morality play is Everyman which dates from 1493­95. Scholars, by the way, differ as to its probable relation to a Dutch Elckerlijk, published in 1495; that is, which play influenced which? For the purposes of this course, we will let the scholars continue to debate this question, however, one of you may wish to choose this as the topic for your major paper. Everyman is so successful as a morality because "nothing in the play is extraneous to the central homiletic purpose" and "all elements of style, structure, and theme are governed by the conventions of allegory." T. S Eliot says "Everyman is on the one hand the human soul in extremity, and on the other any man in any dangerous position from which we wonder how he is going to escape­­with as keen interest as that with which we wait for the escape of the film hero, bound and helpless in a hut to which his enemies are about to set fire." Eliot's comment neatly highlights what makes Everyman so successful: it is both perfect allegory and high drama.
The information below is taken from L. V. Ryan's "Doctrine and Dramatic Structure in Everyman, Speculum 32 (1957): 722­3.
Understanding the theology of the play is indispensable to a full appreciation of it. As Ryan notes "the real meaning and thus the true and legitimate effect of the work depend not on the action alone, but on a proper comprehension of what the action signifies" (723).
The key question the playwright addresses is: What must a man do to be saved?" Further, he must solve the problem of reducing "the complex answer to terms of simple dramatic representation without falsifying or obscuring the doctrine." To do dramatize the orthodox Catholic view of the scheme of salvation, the author was faced with two paradoxes. "According to Catholic theology, man having fallen by Adam's original sin, is incapable of saving himself through his own efforts. Only through the graces earned in the redemption by Christ­­in which one must believe­­is the free gift of salvation made available. After professing his faith, however, one must also continue to cooperate with grrace; that is, he must live well in the life of grace in order to achieve heaven. In addition, the benefits of the redemption are passed on to all men through the ministration of Christ's church, of which one must be a member to gain eternal life. Here the paradoxes arise. First, though man is incapable of doing anything by himself to merit salvation and is saved by the Sacrifice on the Cross, yet he is finally judged on the basis of his own good deeds. The believing Christian must perform good deeds because the precept of charity so commands him and because failure to do so is a grave sin of omission (723­24) . . . The second is that while Christ died for all men, only through membership in his church may anyone be saved. This belief in turn poses two problems. It rules out the strictly Calvinistic doctrine of special election. Everyone does receive sufficient grace to save his soul. Nevertheless, even St. Thomas Aquinas admits that why some men are saved and some reprobated is one of the unfathomable mysteries of the divine will. Thus, the author of Everyman is careful to show that while some may not share in its benefits, the redemption was intended for all . . . The author also points out that God's graces in their fullness flow to men only through the church and through the sacraments, which are administered by the clergy" (724).
"The problem of presenting these ideas efficiently and without confusion has determined the structure of the morality. Everyman goes far beyond the overly simple moral lesson that is likely at first glance to be taken as its theme: "Do good deeds and you will be saved." It offers, in effect, a concise presentation of the orthodox teaching on the matter of man's salvation. For the play to be a success, the audience at the end not only must be exposed to but must comprehend the rather involved message revealed step by step through the experience of Everyman" (724­25).
The matter of the role of good deeds in salvation also bears comment. "The author has had to present his doctrine with extreme care. First of all, the church teaches that good works, though they are naturally good and are never to be taken as anything but good, are availing to salvation only to the Christian in the state of grace. Secondly, it is also dogma that man is unable even to begin repentance for his misdeeds unless God supply the first motion in him. God is a wrathful judge, as the opening of the morality indicates, but at the same time he is the merciful Saviour who provides Everyman with the grace to repent. Consequently, Good Deeds is represented as willing to help the hero, but so "sore bounde" by his sins that she 'can not stere.' There is a moment of dramatic suspense here in order that the audience may grasp the full import of the situation: good deeds in themselves are as nothing if a man be in the state of sin" (727).
Other things to note are:
1. that God dominates the first half of the play
2. that the Wheel of Fortune assists in the descent/­ascent pattern
3. that Everyman initially relies on his earthly supports to assist him on his "journey"; at this point he is damned
4. that the motifs of prayer, pre­occupation with time, and personal suffering appear in both halves of the play.
5. that the Seven Deadly Sins, although not overtly present in the play, are central to Everyman's dilemma, especially Avarice and Pride.
6. that the play has a number of thematic references to Christ's Passion
7. that the play finally teaches man's redemption is only through Christ.
In addition, various structural patterns for the play have been advanced. On the one hand, some have argued for a four ­part structural scheme: 1) the fruitless conflict with death, 2) the failure to find a companion, 3) the change from despair to joy through the arrival of worthy companions, and 4) the new complication arising from the desertion by the worthy companions. On the other hand, others argue for a three­ part scheme focusing on various climaxes as Everyman is abandoned by various groups of companions. However, the "negative" prologue of the Messenger and the "positive" epilogue of the Doctor clearly distinguish a two ­part structure. One movement, a falling action, occupies approximately the first half of the play; it traces Everyman's decline in fortune from Death's entrance, which shatters the apparent serenity of his life, to the depth of his despair, where he can forsee only eternal damnation. The second movement, a rising action, carries him from this nadir to his final salvation, symbolized by the words of the welcoming Angel. Detailed analysis reveals this two­part, descent­ascent structural pattern as the basic principle of the play's organization.

This document was originally published in Minute History of the Drama. Alice B. Fort & Herbert S. Kates. New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1935. p. 26.

Purchase Everyman
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.

Study Guide for Everyman

Luminarium, a site about medieval, Renaissance literature, provides a good intro duction to the play.  You may also find it useful to consult Dr. Christy Desmet's outline of the plot.  An online text of the play shows  what it looks like when the spelling is not modernized, as it is in our textbook.

Everyman is both a morality play and an allegory.   (Click on these terms to go to definitions. You can also click on definitions in the Luminarium introduction cited above.)

As you read, look for answers to the following questions:

  1. What does the Messenger tell us in the first speech?   Notice that audience (a hearing) and gracious (giving grace) are used with their original, literal meanings.  As you read this play, if a word (even a common one) seems very odd in its context, try looking it up and paying attention to its derivation (the words it comes from, given in most hardback dictionaries).
  2. What does God say in his first speech?  (Notice how "every man," a general reference, gradually becomes "Everyman," a character, in this speech and the next two.)
  3. What must Everyman do?  What two metaphors are used to describe what he must do?   (See ll. 103-04.)  Accounting majors may be especially interested in the use of the "book of count" as an image here.  Everyman's books are out of balance. (Accounting was well established in the medieval world, and double-entry bookkeeping was becoming known.)
  4. How does Everyman react to Death's summons?  He makes four requests.  What are they, and how does Death respond to each?  Which request does Death agree to grant, and what conditions does he set?  If Everyman's requests seem odd, think about how we behave when we must do something that frightens us.
  5. What happens when Everyman asks Fellowship to go with him?  How does this relate to Fellowship's promises in ll. 212-14, ll. 219-20, and ll. 232-33?  What kinds of things does Fellowship say he would go along for?  What has Everyman learned about friendship?
  6. What happens when Everyman turns to his family (Kinship and Cousin)?  In ll. 373-76, Cousin gives the main reason no one wants to accompany Everyman.  What is it?
  7. Everyman next turns to Goods (wealth).  Notice that in ll. 401-02, Goods tells the truth about when he can and will help Everyman.  What happens when Everyman asks Goods to go with him in this situation?  Look carefully at what Goods says in ll. 439-45.  How permanent is wealth, and how good is wealth for the human soul?
  8. When Everyman turns to Good Deeds, she is too weak to help him.  Why?  To whom does she send him for help?
  9. Knowledge isn't just any knowledge--she represents the knowledge of salvation (of how to be saved).  If you are unfamiliar with Catholic doctrine (and especially if you are familiar with Protestant ideas on the subject), read carefully in the next sections.   Knowledge agrees to do something Good Deeds cannot yet do and no one else will do.   What is it?
  10. To whom does Knowledge first take Everyman?  What does Everyman do there, and what is he given?  (Click here to go to the Columbia Encyclopedia for a definition of penance.)  What effect does this have on Good Deeds?
  11. What garment does Everyman receive from Knowledge?  What condition is his "reckoning" in now?  What other friends do Good Deeds and Knowledge bring to Everyman?  Why are these friends more reliable than Fellowship, Kinship, Cousin, and Goods?
  12. To whom do all these truer friends take Everyman?  What does he receive there?
  13. What doubts does Knowledge express about priests?  Notice that Everyman is off-stage at this point and does not hear what Knowledge says.
  14. What happens to Beauty, Strength, Discretion, and Five-Wits when Everyman comes to the grave?  Do they go with him all the way?  What do you think this means?
  15. How far does Knowledge go?  (Notice that according to most Christian doctrine, the Knowledge of salvation belongs on this side of the grave.  After death, it is too late to use such knowledge--as l. 912 says, "after death amends may no man make.")
  16. Who goes with Everyman into the grave?
  17. What do the speeches of Knowledge and the Angel  suggest about the destination of Everyman's soul after his death?  (The "Bride of Christ" is the church, and Everyman dies as a part of the church.)
  18. The Doctor (a learned person!) underlines the moral of this morality play.  What does he say?


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