My condicion is mannes soule to kill — Everyman’s Mercantile Salvation
Readings of Everyman commonly focus on the sacramental politics of the play, on its relationship with the play Elckerlijk, or on its differences from raucous moral comedies like Mankind. As a result, its affinity with another tradition within late-medieval English literature has gone largely unexplored. The play’s focus on the tension between ‘Goodes’ and ‘Good Dedes’, in particular its choice to use ‘goodes’ as a primary signifier of material sin, draws sharp connections between Everyman and other texts exploring how to balance material and spiritual success. Through the common pun on ‘good(s)’, exploration of confession, and use of money-bag imagery as a metonymy for avarice, Everyman echoes PPl, though the latter poem is ultimately critical of trade. In Everyman‘s suggestion that eleemosynary charity can be a primary route to salvation and antidote to evil, it echoes the more clearly mercantile York Mercers’ Last Judgment. Everyman thus participates in a larger project of the late Middle Ages, in its attention to the tension between salvation and the sins of profit. In its solution to that problem, a pious attention to the forms of the church and to charitable bequest, Everyman takes up a position abandoned in PPl, and falls solidly in the camp of the successful merchants of its day — as Everyman faces his damning goods, he very strongly evokes the father in the mid-fifteenth-century ‘Child of Bristowe’, drawn to hell by his greed. While the antimercantilism of L’s and Gower’s poetry retained staying power in the day of Everyman, by the end of the fifteenth century it was finally possible to imagine pious solutions to the problem of profit. (RAL)
Comparative Drama, 41 (2007), 57–78.
Ladd, Roger A.