Everyman Compositions

These questions ask you to interpret the characters and events of the play -- what the story means at the symbolic level.

1. In a song, Bob Dylan says "he not busy being born is busy dying." How does the dialogue between Death and Everyman support this statement?

2. Explain how Everyman's encounter with Goods relates to the following biblical passage:

"Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth,But lay up for yourselves
treasures in heaven,For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also."
(Matthew 6:19-21).

3. "The evil that men do lives after them," Mark Anthony says in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, but "the good is oft interred with their bones." Is that the insight expressed at the end of Everyman? Explain why or why not.

4. John Donne's "Meditation 17" includes the following passage:

"Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind;
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee."

Explain how this quote serves as one theme for Everyman. Relate the quote specifically to the play.

5. Explain the concept of sin as presented in Everyman. Does the play distinguish between sins of omission and sins of commission? Does the encounter between Everyman and Knowledge support the idea that knowledge of one's sin is necessary before one can truly repent.

6. Ernest Hemingway is famous for the following definitions: "What is moral is what you feel good after and what is immoral is what you feel bad after." Will these definitions serve for the value system of Everyman? Explain.

FOR COMPOSITION: Select one of the following assignments. Your answer should be a well-developed paragraph or two. Support your statements by specific references to the play.

1. Analyze the changes Everyman undergoes during the play. Consider how and why his personality, values, and attitude toward dying change from the instance of his dialogue with Death to his descent into the grave.

2. In a well-worked-out allegory, each character and event has a meaning that fits together as part of a coherent overall pattern. Looking back over the play as a whole, summarize in your own words the allegorical meaning of each major character. Show briefly how each character lives up to his or her allegorical meaning.

3. One of the themes of Everyman is that man has a sinful but redeemable nature. Discuss this concept, showing your understanding of it and the play.

 Enrichment Activities

1. Listen to the Jackson Browne song "For Everymen" and write a composition analyzing the ways in which his song is inspired by the original play. Lyrics here.

2. Jean Sibelius composed incidental music to accompany the modern version of the play by Hugo von Hofmannsthal. Listen to his Everyman, Opus 83 (also known as Jokamies, 1916).

Updated 12 June 2016.

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