Comedic and Liturgical Restoration in Everyman


In lieu of an abstract, the first paragraph of the essay follows:

The two best accounts of the morality play Everyman are by Lawrence V. Ryan1 and Thomas F. Van Laan.2 Both discuss the structure of the play, with Ryan elucidating the dramatic and emotional patterns and Van Laan describing the "two-part structure" of the action, which first descends and then ascends. Both show the way that Christian doctrine receives embodiment in the art of the play, and both examine the structure of theme, action, and character. I propose here to extend their discussions by offering the term "comedy" as the term proper for the rhythm of the action and by analyzing this comic pattern in the principal metaphors of the play. I shall also suggest the play's close connection to the rites of the Church: (1) 0. B. Hardison indicates that the morality play "depends on the sacraments" and that the characters act as they do "because a sacramental psychology requires them" so to act;3 and Everyman brings most if not all of the seven sacraments into its structure. (2) Everyman participates in the same pattern of comic restoration which the Mass enacts. Futhermore, (3) the structure of the principal metaphors of the play is the same as that of one specific feature of the liturgy-namely, the priest's prayers of preparation offered prior to saying Mass. Therefore, I shall suggest that Everyman is like much medieval drama in taking its origins (at least in part) in the liturgy. Ryan presents a fine summary of the theological concepts of the play, and I shall assume the perspective of these ideas as I write. Both Ryan and Van Laan limit their remarks to the English play; and so, too, shall I.

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