Importance of Everyman in The Development of Drama

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      "The cradle of the English drama rested on the altar". The English drama has its origin in the religious feeling that is rooted in human nature. The English priests were anxious to give to the common people stories of the Bible and the doctrines of Christian religion in popular forms. In early times, stories of the Bible were illustrated by a series of living pictures. In them, the performers acted the stories in dumb shows.

Everyman occupies a unique place in the development of English drama.
Everyman (drama)

      At the next stage, the actors spoke as well as acted their parts. Several plays were written by priests and these plays were known as Mysteries and Miracles. According to some historians, the term Mysteries was applied to the stories taken from the Bible while the name Miracles was given to plays dealing with incidents in the lives of saints and martyrs. At first, these plays were staged in the church and then they came out of the church in the market places. The Civil Corporation organized the plays and the trade guilds produced them. Many cycles of plays have survived and of these, those of Chester, York, Towneley and Conventry" are notable. Many of the plays in York's cycle are an elaboration of the Biblical narratives without dramatic features. In the plays of Towneley cycle, there are close vivid descriptions of a realistic nature, as for example the play of Noat with his children, the First Shepherd's Play, etc.

      In the Morality plays which were established later the characters represent abstract qualities: one of the earliest of these Moralities is the Castle of Perseverance and the play is a finished product. The dialogue is written in an elaborate rhyming stanza and the play gives an account of man's life from birth to his appearance at the seat of judgment.

      The most famous of the English Moralities is the play of Everyman. Although it is an allegorical one, the story seems to be the story of an ordinary journey. God sends Death to Everyman and tells him to prepare for a journey He, in sorrow, implores a respite and obtains only a few hours to gather together the friends who shall go with him on his supreme journey. Everyman appeals vainly to Fellowship to Kinsmen and to Goods, but they all desert him. Then he remembers Good deeds whom he has long given up, who is lying on the ground, weak and miserable, but who hears his prayers, helps him and recommends to her sister Knowledge. Knowledge sends him to confession and Everyman, shriven of sin is ready to meet God. At the moment when he reaches the grave, Beauty, Strength, Discretion and Five Wits depart inspite of their promise to follow him. Knowledge would go with him but cannot. Only Good Deeds is left. She alone is not vain and would plead for him. Everyman dies purely of sin and forgiven.

      Indeed, Everyman occupies a unique place in the development of English drama. The conception of the play is simple and enthralling, the work is classically constructed. The beauty of the work is its sincerity. There is an inevitability in the subject. It deals with the essential tragedy of every human being. At each stage of Everyman's journey, the abstract is made concrete by lively figures and human situations. Though the characters in Everyman are abstract figures, they have more variety than the individual persons derived from Biblical narratives. The allegorical figures appear with contemporary traits to the audience. The process of Everyman's salvation shows the unquestioning trust that the medieval mind placed on faith.

      But the human interest of the play is undeniable. The abstraction does not undermine the human quality of the play. The abstract qualities are sharply defined individuals and in their portrayal, the dramatist has shown admirable skill and understanding. Allardyce Nicoll has rightly observed: "The peculiar paradox therefore is that in apparently drawing drama away from realism to allegory the Morality writers succeeded in linking it still closer with actual life". The play is characterized by swift movement and it is compact and coherent in its structure. There is gradual development to the climax which is built up by mounting moments of suspense and despair. There are dramatic moments. The encounter between Everyman and his earthly Goods is brilliantly presented. The end is however sober. Thus from the point of view of structure and characterization, Everyman shows a distinct development in the sphere of dramatic art.

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