The Summoning of Everyman

Andrew Hadfield

in The Oxford Handbook of Tudor Drama

Published in print July 2012 | ISBN: 9780199566471
Published online November 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks of Literature

The Summoning of Everyman

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  • Literary Studies (1500 to 1800)



The Summoning of Everyman is one of the last — perhaps the last — of the medieval morality plays, probably written towards the end of the fifteenth century. Everyman is a superficially simple play. It serves as a memento mori, and can be related to the ubiquitous medieval Ars Moriendi, the art of dying. This structure makes it an unusual play, as the protagonist is already under sentence of death and his actual death at the end cannot be seen as a particular turning point apart from the shock of seeing the hero willingly walk into his own grave. But the play, although it is closely related in style and form to the sermon cannot be read as a gloomy or straightforwardly forbidding work. Like the danse macabre, Everyman can also be read as an affirmation of the life lived before death and the need to balance each against the other, preparing for death in the middle of life. Accordingly, it is often very funny, most significantly through the representation of figures who will perform any number of mental gymnastics in order to avoid having to face the reality of death, the humour making this central point all the more vivid for the audience.

Keywords: medieval morality plays; Tudor drama; religious drama; dying; death; life

Article.  7886 words. 

Subjects: Literature ; Literary Studies (1500 to 1800)

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