Professor Douglas Bruster publishes ‘Everyman’ and ‘Mankind’
(London: Arden Shakespeare, 2009)
Posted: October 8, 2009
About ‘Everyman’ and ‘Mankind’
Everyman and Mankind are two of the most compelling dramas in the English language before Shakespeare. As morality plays, they focus on the lure and dangers of transgression. This edition makes use of the newly-discovered fragment of the first printed text of Everyman to restore dozens of original readings, and presents Mankind in the rich contexts of its origins in the fifteenth century and its theatrical rediscovery in the twentieth. Together, they show why the morality play forms one of the West’s most distinctive contributions to world culture.
From the Introduction:
Imagine you have just a short while to live. You have been promised joy without end in another place, but to get there safely you have to preserve your innermost being—your soul. Everywhere are temptations that will damage your chances for this extended life. All around you, figures promise to help you by taking this heavy burden from your shoulders. Listening to them is easier than guarding your spirit, for their promises let you pay attention to what you want right now. As you keep company with these figures, however, you begin to see how thin their support is, how weak you feel and how transitory all physical things are. Friends, fine clothing, money, status, sex: these are attractive but ephemeral pleasures. You realize that by indulging your body you have endangered your soul. You may have lost everything for an instant of pleasure. When you die, you will have nothing and be alone.
To imagine this situation is to understand what happens in morality plays, and why they were written. The English dramas we call ‘morality plays’ can just as easily be called ‘soul plays’, for they typically seek to teach the right way to live by showing someone who gives in to the body’s desires. Seduced by the forces of sin, this symbolic character—‘Mankind’ in our first play, ‘Everyman’ in the second—eventually learns the lesson of living right in the short term, on earth, so as to preserve the chance to live forever, in heaven. Morality plays are entertaining and instructive portrayals of a representative human figure who faces a choice between body and spirit, this world and the next. This choice is made more difficult by the competition between the parties of sin (the vices and devils) and redemption (the virtues and angels) for his soul.
This is an inaugural volume in the new series, Arden Early Modern Drama.