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Comedic and Liturgical Restoration in Everyman John Cunningham The two best accounts of the morality play Everyman are by Lawrence V. Ryan! 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. receivesembodiment 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 ln the principal metaphors of the play. I shall also suggest the play's close connection to the rites of the Church: (1) O. 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. JOHN CUNNINGHAM is Associate Professor of English at Hollins College, where he teaches courses in Shakespeare and in seventeenth-centuty poetry. He has published a book on Byron's Don lU41l and essays on King Lenr and Walter Percy's Low in the Rulm and on Flannery O'Connor. 162 John Cunningham 163 In arguing for the affinities between ritual and medieval drama, Robert Potter reminds us that "primitive ritual is inherently dramatic" and suggests that "the structure of the morality play ... can be traced to ... origins in fertility ritual": he is more likely correct when he speaks of the relationship between the two as analogical, pointing to the "rhythm of death .and regeneration" in eachA The "pattern . . . in every morality play," Potter says, is that of all "medieval religious drama," the "rhythm of the victory of life over death, the shape of enacted ritual."5 For Potter, the morality play The King of Life "belongs to the genre of dying and reviving kings who, as Frazer voluminously testifies, are found in folklore and religion of so many cultures"; medieval drama "took its beginning in a symbolic re-enactment of the Resurrection"~ Hardison points out the descending action which begins with Lent and the ascending action which comes with Easter; likewise, he rehearses the medieval allegorical interpretations of the Mass which saw that rite as "the re-creation of the 'life, death, and resurrection' of Christ."7 This structure in which Lent gives way to Easter and in which the Mass progresses from tristia to gaudium participates in the pattern of comedy and is the basis of the liturgical plays, of the mysteries, and of the moralities. Though this action requires death,that death is only the prelude to a rebirth. The action also moveS from "guilt to innocence, from separation to comm.uniori";8 it ends, as V. A. Kolve afI:irms, in "joy and reconciliation and salvation."9 Everyman also belongs to a tradition of literary comedy in which a character or a group of characters leaves a world conducive to moral death and moves toward a state propitious to life; such comedy often ends in marr;iag~ feasts (em.blematic of unions) and births (emblematic of new·life) and in rejoicing as sorrow gives way to gladness. One thinks of As You Like It with its dance and marriage feast concomitant to the reformation of both Frederick and Oliver; or of Joseph Andrews with the restoration...


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pp. 162-173
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