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Modern Language Association

Everyman: A Structural Analysis


Author(s): Thomas F. van Laan
Source: PMLA, Vol. 78, No. 5 (Dec., 1963), pp. 465-475
Published by: Modern Language Association
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/460724
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EVERYMAN: A STRUCTURAL ANALYSIS
BY THOMASF. VAN LAAN

T HE HIGH VALUE of Everyman has been only the loss to man of those associates and at-
provocatively asserted in T. S. Eliot's de- tributes that "fade ... as floure in Maye." He
scription of it as "perhaps" the only English concludes by announcing God's call for a "gen-
drama "within the limitations of art."' Eliot erall rekenynge," an event which must inspire
writes this while discussing the lack of form in despair in anyone who, like Everyman, has found
post-Kydian drama and thus implies that the life and sin "full swete."6 The Doctor's epilogue
source of this value is the play's formal unity. provides a remarkable contrast. In addition to
David Kaula has taken Eliot to mean "that
l "Four ElizabethanDramatists,"SelectedEssays (Lon-
nothing in the play is extraneous to the central don, 1951),p. 111.A. C. Cawley's"Introduction"to his edi-
homiletic purpose, that all elements of style, tion of Everyman(Manchester:ManchesterUniv. Press,
structure, and theme are governed by the con- 1961)containsthe best generaldiscussionof the play's texts,
ventions of allegory."2 Yet the emphasis on meaning,style, versification,and staging. Cawleyalso con-
Everyman's homiletic purpose and allegorical veniently summarizes(pp. x-xiii) and providesa bibliog-
conventions does not sufficiently explain either raphy of (pp. xxxii-xxxiii)the ratherconclusivearguments
for the priorityof Elckerlijc.Sincemy focusin this study is a
its critical esteem or its theatrical popularity. formalanalysisof the Englishtext, I have generallyignored
Fortunately, Eliot has enlarged upon his original the vexed questionof its relationshipto the Dutch play.
2 "Timeand the Timelessin Everyman and Dr. Faustus,"
assessment in a later work.3 He argues that re-
CollegeEnglish,xxII (Oct. 1960),9.
ligious drama, to be successful, must combine its 3Religious Drama: Medievaland Modern (New York,
doctrine with "ordinary dramatic interest." 1954).
Everymanfulfills his requirement: 4 The structureof Everyman has beenexaminedby Cleanth
the religiousand the dramaticare not merely com- Brooksand RobertB. Heilman(Understanding Drama,New
York, 1948,pp. 104-108)and by LawrenceV. Ryan ("Doc-
bined,but whollyfused. Everymanis on the one hand trine and Dramatic Structure in Everyman,"Speculum,
the human soul in extremity, and on the other any xxxII, 1957, 722-735). Brooksand Heilmandiscerna four-
man in any dangerouspositionfromwhichwe wonder part structuralscheme:(I) the fruitlessconflictwith Death,
how he is going to escape-with as keen interest as (II) the failureto find a companion,(III) the changefrom
that with which we wait for the escape of the film despairto joy through the arrivalof worthy companions,
hero,boundand helplessin a hut to whichhis enemies and (IV) the new complicationarisingfromthe desertionby
are about to set fire. the worthy companions.In their view, the new complica-
tion is resolvedwhen Everymandies, "completelysobered
The comparison isolates rather succinctly the and maturedby his experience"(p. 105).Ryan distinguishes,
quality which has given Everyman its eminence: roughly,a three-partscheme:"Structurally,the play turns
it is not only perfect allegory; it tends also to be on two climaxes,growingout of the abandonmentof the hero
by two theologicallyand dramaticallydistinct groupsof
high drama. This fusion of religious doctrine and 'friends'in whom he has placed his confidence"(p. 725).
ordinary dramatic interest results directly from Both analyses presentcertain fundamentaldifficulties.Be-
the play's fundamental formal principle. The cause of their emphasis on drama rather than doctrine,
human action and its allegorical significance Brooksand Heilmanisolateepisodeswhere"thesermontakes
precedenceof the drama"(p. 106).Ryan, in seeingthe theol-
together form a distinct structural pattern which ogy of the play as the sole sourceof its "characters,struc-
not only imposes discipline but also contributes ture, significance,and even its dramatic impressiveness"
its own intrinsic meaning. Through this twofold (p. 723), tends to obscurethe dramaticartistry.In calling
function, the pattern simultaneously deepens the the later desertiona dramaticclimax,both analysesdistort
doctrinal content and evokes the indispensable its significanceas a specificstage in a continuouspatternof
action.
emotional tension.4 6 All citationsto Everymanare to the text establishedby
The structural pattern of Everyman is sugges- J. Q. Adams,ChiefPre-Shakespearean Dramas(Cambridge,
tively defined by the somewhat superfluous pro- Mass., 1924),pp. 288-303.
6 As Cawleypointsout (p. 29), this prologuehas no paral-
logue and epilogue. The Messenger, who intro- lel in Elckerlijc,and it erroneouslyanticipatesthe appear-
duces the play, reiterates a single point, "How ance of "Iolyte"and "Pleasure."Suchfacts prompthim to
transytory we be all daye."5 Although he insists suggest that "it may have been written by someoneother
that the play's matter and intent are "wonderous than the translator."Yet someintroductionseemsnecessary
precyous," his speech is essentially negative. He to focus the attention of the spectatorsand to identify the
focuses on the inevitability of death and the first speaker.Furthermore,the speechhas considerabledra-
matic value. It effectively anticipates the play's message
destructiveness of sin. His outline of the action withoutfully expoundingit, and it requestswithoutnegat-
anticipates but one of its phases, for he mentions ing the emotionbasic to the play's openingscenes,
465
466 "Everyman": A Structural Analysis

pointing the moral for the less discerning, the one more justification for the threatening tone.
Doctor absolves the prologue's negative empha- The conception of God thus established domi-
sis by stressing the positive elements of the sec- nates the whole first half of the play and becomes
ond half of the play and by focusing upon a char- explicit in such devices as Everyman's use of
acter-concept not mentioned in the prologue: the "Adonay" (245), "hye kynge" (330), and "hyest
Good Deeds which do not desert man. The Mes- Iupyter of all" (407) to identify his antagonist.
senger leads up to the threat posed by God's call The falling action proceeds without interrup-
for a reckoning, but the Doctor concludes by tion as the scene itself shifts from Heaven to
affirming Everyman's ultimate end: Earth, where Death confronts the unsuspecting
he that hath his accountehole and sounde, Everyman. Everyman's initial position in the
Hye in heuenhe shall be crounde.(916-917) pattern of descent can be precisely determined.
He is, as his failure to expect or recognize Death
The prologue and epilogue clearly distinguish a
demonstrates, totally unaware of any values
two-part structure. One movement, a falling higher than those of world and time. From this
action, occupies approximately the first half of limited point of view he stands at the highest
the play; it traces Everyman's decline in fortune
possible level: he has all the wealth he can pos-
from Death's entrance, which shatters the ap-
sibly want; he has friends and kindred on whom,
parent serenity of his life, to the depth of his he believes, he can rely. The sudden pressure of
despair, where he can foresee only eternal damna- eternity brought to bear on him forces him down-
tion. The second movement, a rising action, ward toward death, the very antithesis of his cri-
carries him from this nadir to his final salvation, teria for success. Thus the ubiquitous medieval
symbolized by the words of the welcoming metaphor of the Wheel of Fortune assists the cos-
Angel.7 Detailed analysis reveals this two-part, mological scheme in symbolizing the descending
descent-ascent structural pattern as the basic
pattern of action. Everyman rests at the top of
principle of the play's organization. More impor- the Wheel, at the apex of Fortune.8 Death's
tantly, such an analysis also shows how this visit turns the Wheel. But even more shocking
structure enriches the experience to which it for Everyman is Death's demand that he make a
gives form. reckoning to God. For while Everyman's own
The first movement of the action begins at the
point of view is purely temporal, God's opening
highest possible schematic level, out of time and speech has already specified an entirely different
the world, in God's presence. In the medieval
point of view. Everyman's distorted values asso-
world-view, with its series of concentric spheres, ciate him with the generic "Euery man"'of God's
the presence of the Prime Mover postulates in- condemnation. In the first of the play's numerous
finite height. But the action already suggests de-
self-echoes, Everyman's language emphasizes his
scent: God observes Earth and its creatures.
vulnerability: his reaction to the demand for a
Moreover, like the speech of the Messenger, reckoning ("This blynde mater troubleth my
God's words are wholly negative in force, imply-
wytte," 102) unconsciously repeats God's image
ing only the difficulty to come, omitting any in- in "Of ghostly syght the people be so blynde"
dication of hope for mankind. In God's eyes, men
(25). The downward action thus aims even be-
are blind to spiritual matters and drowned in sin.
yond loss of life. Everyman's lack of prepared-
Having forsaken their God for worldly prosper-
ity, they grow steadily worse each day. Man has
even forgotten the love which God manifested in 7 The
two-part movement in Everyman may also be dis-
suffering for him. But man's rejection has been to tinguished by comparing the play with a Scottish narrative
his own disadvantage because God now plans to poem of ca. 1480-85, "The Thrie Tailes of the Thrie Priests
of Peblis." The third tale tells the same story, but the action
"Haue a rekenynge of euery mannes persone" in the poem focuses almost exclusively on the ever-increasing
(46). The whole speech thus moves logically to its decline in the hero's fortunes, with only a perfunctory con-
conclusion where God sees that He "nedes on clusion to restore him to his original position. H. deVocht, an
them . . . must do iustyce" (61). The "majesty" advocate for the priority of Everyman over Elckerlijc sug-
stressed in the first line connotes only power; its gests that this poem may be the source from which the drama-
tist worked (Everyman: A ComparativeStudy of Texts and
nature is characterized by the harshness of such Sources, Materials for the Study of the Old English Drama,
words as "ryghtwysnes, the sharpe rod" (28). n. s. xx, Louvain, 1947, pp. 192-201). The poem is available
God speaks only in His aspect of righteousness in Early Popular Poetry of Scotland and the Northern Border,
and justice: He is the God of Wrath. God the ed. David Laing, Re-arranged and Revised by W. Carew
Hazlitt (London, 1895), I.127-168.
merciful is evoked only by the reference to His 8 See Cawley, p. xxi, on Everyman's riches and friends

Passion, and in this context the Passion serves as being gifts of fortune.
Thomas F. Van Laan 467

ness directs him toward an even lower depth, Between the episodes, Everyman remains
eternal damnation. alone on the stage, in a visual representation of
Of this unavoidable implication, Everyman is his increasing loneliness. He expresses his reac-
not entirely aware. Although Death's visit tions in soliloquy, and the separate speeches are
troubles him, he still retains his earthly supports, linked by recurring motifs which emphasize the
and he now turns to these for help. The ensuing growing despair. The first motif consists of his
episodes define the falling action in a variety of abortive prayers. When Death leaves, Everyman
ways, the first and most obvious of which deline- cries out, "Lorde, helpe, that all wrought!" (192).
ates, in the loss of his worldly resources, Every- Deserted by Fellowship, he echoes this cry with
man's descent on the Wheel of Fortune. The "A, Lady helpe!" (304). With Kindred and
effect which gives this whole section unity is Cousin gone, he makes a third appeal: "A Iesus!
visually symbolized by each of Everyman's is all come hereto?" (378). The prayers are simi-
earthly supports turning his back on him after lar in their brevity and their vehemence; they
denying him assistance. Everyman becomes suggest a felt need to pray which is inhibited by
more and more isolated and defenceless, a process excessive worldliness. At the same time, the
heightened by the irony which has each deserter three prayers create a progression of despair; he
promise him aid before finally refusing it. Ulti- turns from a vague appeal to the power which
mately, he has nothing left; even his last resort, now threatens him, to the Virgin, mankind's
his Goods, proves to be no more than a tempo- intercessor with his Saviour, and finally to the
rary loan. In a further irony, the trussed, locked, Saviour Himself. The order shows his growing
and sacked Goods can also turn his back on the awareness that he needs a Saviour, but the tone
sinking hero. Death has left the stage, but his indicates little hope of moving Him. A second
continued authority asserts itself through motif which links these soliloquies is Everyman's
Goods's words, as "What! wenest thou that I am preoccupation with time. Death tells him he has
thyne .. . ? / Naye, Eueryman; I saye no. / As but one day to get his account in order, then
for a whyle I was lente the" (437-440) carefully reminds him that "the tyde abydeth no man"
echoes Death's mocking "What! wenest thou thy (143). Throughout this section, Everyman fear-
lyue is gyuen the, / And thy worldely goodes fully notices the rapid movement of time (192,
also. .. ? / Nay, nay; it was but lende the" 194). He applies the motif to the deserters, who
(161-164).9 "fast awaye do . . . flee" (383). Abandoned by
The second way in which these episodes have Cousin, he pauses to mourn, then realizes that
significance is through the conversion of Every- "I lose my tyme here longer to abyde" (386).
man's complacency into despair. This emotional His interview with Goods convinces him that his
pattern is formed in part by his changing appeal whole life has been a "mysspendynge of tyme"
to his various associates. The length of the Fel- (436). This preoccupation not only verbalizes
lowship episode reflects Everyman's confidence; the emotional pattern; by suggesting the sun
he can withhold announcement of his precise sinking in the west, it evokes a new symbol for
need until he has successfully extracted a promise the falling action which the emotional pattern
of assistance. The next episode, with Kindred and helps to define. A third and final motif uniting
Cousin, is much briefer because Fellowship's de- these soliloquies expresses, through the echoing
sertion has shaken him. His anticipation is less of related words, the only sensation which
sure: he "trusted" that Fellowship would help Everyman can feel on his descent, that of his
(203), he only "believes" that Cousin and Kin- abject suffering. His heart is sick (133), he fears
dred will (315). Therefore he is more direct "endles sorowe" (172), his ever-worsening situa-
with them, telling them at once what he seeks, tion is a "dystresse" (391) and a "dysease" (403).
as if already expecting their refusal. His an- Even Goods, by no means compassionate,
ticipation of the meeting with Goods indicates characterizes Everyman's plight as a "dolour"
a further decline: "If that my Good now helpe me (433) and as "this grete sorowe and care"
myght" (389). He quickly explains his situation (434). For Everyman, the suffering occasioned
to Goods, and without awaiting a reply begins to by his increasing despair epitomizes itself in
beg him for his help (409); close to hysteria, he a single forceful word, the "payne" which
varies plea with insistence and then with re- unites all these related expressions, and echoes
proach. When he finally turns to Good Deeds, he throughout the desertion scenes (83, 191, 331).
has no confidence, no anticipation whatever: The third way in which the desertion episodes
"Alas! she is so weke / That she can nother go
nor speke" (482-483). 9 Parallelnotedby Cawley,p. xxvi.
468 "Everyman": A Structural Analysis

contribute to the falling action is the most im- Pride as the chief of the Seven;"2as a man who
portant of all because it pertains to the more has reached the age when Death approaches, it is
encompassing point of view established in God's equally appropriate that he should be possessed
opening speech. The very fact that Everyman by the Sin naturally inherent to old age.'3
would seek help from such companions as Fellow- God's speech and the presence of a fully
ship and Goods shows that, in his present state, achieved personification of Avarice prepare for
he is damned.10 They represent aspects of life details connoting other Sins. Fellowship's vary-
which can only condemn him, as Goods, whose ing proposals contain much suggestive detail. He
name emphasizes the point through irony, tri- begins bravely enough:
umphantly insists. But the severity of Every- If ony haue you wronged,ye shall reuengedbe,
man's peril is most conclusively established by ThougheI on the groundebe slayne for the,
the play's allegory, which here works on more Thoughthat I knowebeforethat I sholde
than one level. These associates indeed represent dye! (218-220)
friends and relatives and wealth, but the charac-
But when he realizes the ironic aptness of his
terization given them points to a further, more
threatening level of meaning. Their specific at- words, he hastily retreats:
tributes combine with those of Everyman himself And yet, yf thou wylte ete, and drynke,and
to make up a complete roster of the Seven makegood chere,
Or haunt to womenthe lusty company,
Deadly Sins. I woldenot forsakeyou.... (272-274)
Everyman differs from the typical morality
play in the narrow focus which has apparently Finally, he settles upon a qualified version of his
excluded from the dramatis personae the usual original offer:
comic characters, the Vices and the Seven But and thou wylte murder,or ony man kyll,
Deadly Sins. But the Sins are certainly present in In that I wyll helpe the with a good wyll. (281-282)
spirit. In the opening speech, God describes man-
kind's serfdom to "the seuen deedly synnes This vacillation gives Fellowship human reality;
dampnable" (36). He enumerates "pryde, couey- the details fill out his personification of "sporte
tyse, wrathe, and lechery" (37), adding "enuy" a and playe" (201). But there remains an excess
little later (50). The list is incomplete, but as not entirely accounted for by this single level of
Morton Bloomfield has pointed out, the Middle allegory. On the other hand, seen from the al-
Ages was so saturated with the concept that even ready established context of the Seven Deadly
partial enumeration effectively called attention Sins, the double focus on murder suggests Wrath;
to the whole.1 Medieval spectators knew the revenge, the first thing that occurs to Fellowship,
complete list, and they knew the typical charac- is a specific attribute of Wrath.'4 The remaining
teristics of each Sin, for they met with them 10Cf. Ryan, p. 725: Everyman's"excessivelove of passing
infrequently in other moralities and quite regu- things has placed him in danger of hell-fire."
larly in the Sunday sermon. They would thus see 11The Seven Deadly Sins (East
Lansing: Michigan State
Everyman not only as a representative of them- College Press, 1952), p. 147.
12 On Avarice's
selves but also as a personification of Avarice. replacing Pride as Chief Sin, see The Castle
Everyman's addiction to the other pleasures in of Perseverance,where Sir Covetous has a scaffold of his own,
as do God, Flesh, World, and Devil, and has command over
life is largely suggested by those with whom he the other Sins (cf. J. WilsonMcCutchan,"Covetousnessin
associates, but his complete submission to Ava- 'The Castleof Perseverence',"Univ. of VirginiaStudies,rv,
rice dominates his own speech and behavior. 1951,175-191).For this developmentin non-dramaticlitera-
Death prepares for Everyman's entrance by ture, see Bloomfield,pp. 74, 95, 183, 189, 222-223, 237. For
this developmentin the sermons,see G. R. Owst,Literature
focusing on excessive love of riches (76). When and Pulpit in MedievalEngland(Cambridge,England:Uni-
Everyman finally grasps the sinister import of versityPress,1933),pp. 307-308.
Death's visit, he offers a considerable bribe, one 13 This is a frequentmotif of the moralities.In TheCastle,
thousand pounds, in an attempt to defer the Sir Covetouswins backthe heroafterhe has grownso old as
matter (121-123). All episodes in the first half of to be immuneto the otherSins.In HenryMedwall'sNature,
Man at first ignoresCovetousness,but his fellow Sins have
the play move climactically toward the scene no fear becausethey knowMan will turn to him "whanhys
with Goods, which delineates Everyman's most hed waxethhore"(I.1243f.). For this motifin non-dramatie
vicious involvement. His riches lie heaped up literatureand in the sermons,see Bloomfield,pp. 76, 165,
everywhere; he admits that he has loved Goods 432; Owst,p. 535.
14 See Owst, p. 460. In Chaucer's"Parson'sTale" (The
all his life (388). As the main figure in a morality,
PoeticalWorksof Chaucer,ed. F. N. Robinson,Boston,1933,
it is appropriate that he should personify what x [i], 570), advisingmurderis treatedas a majorcharacter-
by the fifteenth century was rapidly replacing istic of Wrath.
Thomas F. Van Laan 469

details of eating, drinking, and frequenting ques- him; but this does not absolve his original guilt.
tionable women denote Gluttony and Lechery, He continues to be Pride's victim and thus its
two Sins which, as here, are normally coupled in representation.24
medieval accounts.15 These two Sins reappear in Recognition that all Seven Deadly Sins partici-
the refusals of Cousin and Kindred. Cousin "had pate in the downfall of Everyman demands re-
leuer fast brede and water / All this fyue yere and examination of a view that the play fails to take
more" than accompany Everyman (346-347), evil seriously because its world "is not invaded
and the speech loses some of its point if the impli- by the Devil and his ministers, the personified
cation of Gluttony is ignored. Kindred re-intro- vices."25 On the contrary, this indirect represen-
duces Lechery by offering Everyman, in lieu of tation of the Sins asserts an especially serious
his own accompaniment, his maid, who, since she concept of evil. In other moralities the amusing
loves to go to feasts, "there to be nyse" (361), is farce of the personified Sins usurps all interest
evidently no Beatrice. Further details, otherwise due the serious characters. The direct representa-
obscure, readily suggest Sloth and Envy. Cous- tion of the Sins undoubtedly demonstrates the
in's curious excuse, "I haue the crampe in my active presence of evil, but their amusing activity
toe" (356), does more than enliven him. Sloth is a threatens to obscure the homiletic purpose.
sin of the feet: Sloth, or the slothful man, suffers Everymaneliminates this possible danger through
from gout; sometimes his feet are gnawed.16 the creation of two levels of allegory. The Sins are
Cousin's cramp is wholly consistent with this subsumed to the serious purpose because they are
tradition. Goods, whom Everyman had loved realized only on the second level and by the same
best, viciously upbraids him, rejoicing in his characters who denote the friendship, family,
misfortune, glad that Everyman has brought
himself into jeopardy: "I must nedes laugh; I can 15Bloomfield, passim.
not be sadde" (456). Chaucer's Parson clarifies 16See Bloomfield, pp. 177, 181,
221, 433.
17
the significance of Goods's jubilation: "The sec- Chaucer, x (I), 492. On this, the reverse aspect of Envy,
onde spece of Envye is joye of oother mannes see also Owst, p. 457.
18Even though Sir Covetous is the obvious Chief in The
harm.""7 Castle, it is nevertheless Pride who, in keeping with tradi-
Pride is the only one of the Seven Sins not tion, launches the first attack upon a Virtue. See the refer-
evoked by specific verbal details. But Everyman, ences in n. 12.
19Chaucer, x (i),
the personification of Avarice, is as hero equally 450-456; Owst, pp. 308-312.
20The Tudor Interlude (Leicester: Leicester Univ.
Press,
likely to embody Pride, because this Sin, the 1958), pp. 78-79. Since no concrete evidence concerning
original leader, continues to retain its prominence Everyman's costume exists, Death's line may in fact charac-
even while Avarice develops in importance,18and terize only his attitude. For confirmation of Craik's inter-
one of the principal sources of Pride is wealth like pretation, see Fellowship's hint that Everyman is in the
that of Everyman's.19 His costume establishes a habit of bribing his friends with new clothes (292) and
visual reference to Pride. Death's accusing ques- Everyman's later reference to his body's delight in going
"gay and fresshe" (614). Moreover, gay and colorful array
tion, "Whyder arte thou goynge / Thus gayly?" is perfectly in keeping with Everyman's personality; it
(85-86) indicates, as T. W. Craik has argued, the would enhance the developing emotional effect, for the
nature of Everyman's dress,20 and ostentatious costume must remain while the hero's inner gaiety dimin-
ishes; such a costume is especially necessary for the full sig-
clothing always signifies Pride.21 Everyman's nificance of the contrast achieved when Everyman changes
adherence to Pride shows most clearly, however, into the garment of sorrow (643).
in his early complacent acceptance of worldly 21 Chaucer, x (1), 412; Owst, pp. 82, 404-407. Cf., in Med-
life, a state which typifies the attitude Pride tries wall's Nature, Pride's characterization as the typical dandy.
to instill in his victims.22 Lacking any notion of 22 Cf. Nature (i.955 ff.) where Pride flatters Man's superior
intelligence.
another, superior life, or of the death which links 23 The Pride of Life, 11.175-178, ed. Alois Brandl, in Quel-
the two, Everyman imagines, in effect, that he len des weltlichenDramas in England vor Shakespeare(Strass-
can live forever; he suffers from Pride of Life, a burg, 1898). Bloomfield (p. 188) refers to a treatment of this
condition perfectly exemplified by the king in the condition in religious prose.
4 The tradition of the Seven
morality of that name: Deadly Sins accommodates
their representation by characters with other and more
I schal lyue ever mo attractive names. Familiar in the sixteenth-century moral-
& crounber as kinge; ity, this device occurs much earlier in religious prose (see
I ne may neuerwit of wo; Owst, p. 96). Desertion of their victims by characters per-
I lyue at my likinge.23 sonifying the Sins is also a known motif, occurring in the
morality tradition as early as The Castle, where Mundus and
Sir Covetous desert Man once his complete submission ful-
Everyman naturally shows less and less evidence fills their purpose. See also Bloomfield, pp. 204-205.
of pride as the falling action increasingly abases 26Kaula, p. 11.
470 "Everyman": A Structural Analysis

riches, and mankind of the first. Everyman per- stage in the alleviation of spiritual blindness.
sonifies two Sins, and the qualities which suggest Goods's taunts have had their effect on him:
the other five are shared by the remaining char- Than of my selfe I was ashamed;
acters. This unsystematic distribution preserves And so I am worthy to be blamed.(476-477)
the first level of allegory even while the second
asserts itself. Since the function of the allegory is Good Deeds, whose name suggests a meaningful
to infuse the human action of the surface with change in Everyman's conception of "good," is
greater meaning, the order in which the two the first associate he seeks that never gave him
levels are established has great structural impor- pleasure, the first that is in no way connected
tance. The first level, more apparent, shows with the Seven Deadly Sins. Awareness of his
Everyman's over-reliance on worldly things; the desperate situation makes him continue to be-
second, slower to achieve realization, sustains the seech even after Good Deeds assures him she is
downward movement by particularizing this helpless. As a result, she introduces him to
over-reliance as submission to the Seven Deadly Knowledge, whose arrival institutes a rising
Sins. God's opening characterization of man is action which continues to the end of the play and
thus made concrete in the action. The threat which counters the falling action by stressing
looms more ominously than ever before: unless gain rather than loss, by resolving the various
man can in some way release himself from sin he motifs which had enacted the descent, and by
must remain entirely devoid of hope. Everyman replacing the increasing despair of the first half
is not only a willing victim of the Sins but he does with a steadily mounting joy in both Everyman
not even go beyond them in his search for help. and the spectators.
Deserted by Goods, Everyman summarizes the On one level of significance, the arrival of
preceding episodes in soliloquy (463-478), heav- Knowledge begins to resolve Everyman's fruit-
ily emphasizing the elements which illustrate his less search for help, a point made explicit when
descent. Then, without hope, he turns to Good her promise, "I wyll go with the, and be thy
Deeds. She continually declares her willingness to gyde, / In thy moost nede to go by thy syde"
help him; but once again irony occurs, for the (522-523), echoes and eliminates Cousin's "I
visual image presents her as supine and possibly wyll deceyue you in your moost nede" (358).26
shackled. She regretfully adds to each insistence On another level, her arrival symbolizes the full
an admission of her sheer incapacity. Everyman growth in Everyman of the condition which she
stares helplessly at his book of account, which personifies. Knowledge here means acknowledge-
Good Deeds, in another image echoing God's ment of sin, or contrition.27 Everyman's clearer
description of man's spiritual blindness, calls "a vision is thus embodied in the action. His ac-
blynde rekenynge in tyme of dystres" (508). She knowledgment of sin weakens the hold which the
verbalizes the pity which Everyman's increasing Seven have on him and marks the first stage of
hopelessness has instilled in the audience ("I am his redeeming penitence. Further, that Knowl-
sory of your fall; / And fayne wolde I helpe you, edge comes from outside Everyman, that she is
and I were able," 514-515), and her choice of the unexpected, that her entrance is not prepared
word "fall" to describe Everyman's progress for-all suggest that Everyman has finally re-
epitomizes the whole preceding action. The word ceived the grace which he also needs to make his
marks his complete defeat. He realizes that with- penitence effective, the grace which had always
out Good Deeds's help, he is "for euer dampned been available but which in his blindness he had
indede!" (510). In terms of his descent on the been unable to perceive. The coming of grace
Wheel of Fortune, he stands at the point of modifies, for the first time, the opening picture of
death; but within the wider frame of action that an entirely wrathful God.
encompasses the whole medieval cosmology, Other motifs of the falling action are resolved
death initiates for him an eternity of damnation. as Knowledge leads Everyman through the vital
The physical relationship of the speakers, which stages of his penitence. The House of Confession
forces Everyman to look downward, expresses recalls a prior house, not fully realized, where
some of the significance. He has failed to look up Goods lay piled up in corners. Knowledge's de-
to Heaven; from his present vantage-point on scription of Confession as a "clensyng ryuere"
Middle-Earth, he can only look down into the (536) recalls and resolves God's image of man as
bottomless depths of Hell. "drowned in synne" (26). The complete absence
Yet this nadir is also his peripety. The motive of soliloquies in the second half of the play, a
which has at last brought him to Good Deeds is 26Parallel noted by Cawley, p. xxv.
the realization of his own guilt, the first necessary 27DeVocht, pp. 59 ff.; Ryan, 728.
p.
Thomas F. Van Laan 471

significant contrast to the falling action, helps to cumulative, each stage carries him that much
dramatize Everyman's relief from utter loneli- closer to Heaven. Simultaneously, on the second
ness. More particularly, the three motifs of level of allegory, these episodes complete the
Everyman's soliloquies-prayer, time, and pain play's subdued version of the Psychomachia, the
-here also resolve themselves. His prayers were battle between Sins and Virtues for the soul of
ejaculatory, restrained by his ignorance of spirit- man.28From the second allegorical level emerge
ual life. Once his redemption begins, however, he the remedia which counteract and purge the
can render a fully-developed, clearly-outlined Seven Deadly Sins. Visual and verbal effects con-
prayer (581-604), reuniting God, Christ, and the note the elimination from Everyman of the two
Virgin, the separate foci of the former abortive Sins he has himself personified, Pride and Ava-
exclamations. He can now perceive and express rice. Pride disappears when he accepts the guid-
not only the threatening aspect of God's majesty ance of Knowledge and willingly undergoes the
and righteousness but also the redeeming quality program she imposes. Pride's defeat is visually
of His love and mercy. The full control in this symbolized when, after his scourging, Everyman
prayer is revealed by its orderly movement changes his former gay costume for the garment
toward the intended climax, "I beseche you helpe of sorrow. The new garment represents contrition
my soule to saue" (604). The motif of time is (645) and thus symbolizes Humility, the opposite
similarly resolved. Time had been a destructive of Pride. Avarice is defeated verbally when
force because so little remained and that little Everyman completes his penitence by making
diminished so rapidly. Everyman's once futile a will:
desire for more time is fulfilled at last while he In almes halfe my good I wyll gyue with
performs his penitence, when Knowledge ap- my handestwayne
proves his effort with "Eueryman, God gyue you In the way of charytewith good
tyme and space!" (608). Time thus changes to a entent .... (699-700)
redemptive force, for within it Everyman purges
both his despair and his guilt. As he rises higher The kind of Charity characterized by alms-giving
in his ascent, he even rejects the misguided over- belongs, along with Humility, to one category of
remedia prevalent in the moralities and non-
emphasis he had accorded time; in the new atti-
tude toward his required pilgrimage, time, once dramatic moral treatises, the personified Moral
too rapid, moves too slowly: "And lette vs go Virtues, each of which opposes and defeats its
now without taryenge" (651). Fleeting time had corresponding Sin.29
been one of the causes of his pain. Pain also Everyman also dramatizes a less familiar but
more significant type of remedium. The Moral
changes in meaning; it assumes a purpose that
makes it both necessary and glorious. Good Virtues, a poetic device allegorizing a fait ac-
Deeds promises Everyman that Knowledge will compli, show by their presence that the Sins have
take him "where thou shalte hele the of thy been driven out, but they prohibit a dramatiza-
smarte" (528). When Confession presents him tion of the change in the sinner himself and are
with the scourge of penance that he must himself thus discontinuous with the human action. The
administer, Everyman eagerly accepts it: "My second type of remedium involves acts rather
body sore punysshyd shall be" (612). He rejoices than personifications; it includes identification
in his self-imposed suffering because pain has also with events in the Christian narrative, such as
become a redeeming force; it is now the medium
28E.
through which he can ultimately eliminate all N. S. Thompson("The EnglishMoralPlays,"
pain and suffering. The motif is entirely resolved Transactions
of theConnecticut
Academyof ArtsandSciences,
when Everyman, seeing Good Deeds released xiv, 1910,353) mentionswithoutdevelopingthe idea the
ofa Psychomachia
presence inEveryman.Cf.deVocht, p. 187.
from her shackles, vows to intensify his bodily 29The MoralVirtuesshouldbe distinguished fromthe
mortification (628). well-known SevenCardinalVirtues,whichdo not satisfac-
These episodes have more than one function in torily correspondto the Sins. The list of MoralVirtueswas
the rising action because of the play's double neveras rigidlyformulatedas thatof theSins.Fora typical
level of allegory. On the first level, Everyman's list, see The Castle,whichpresentsMeekness,Patience,
Charity,Abstinence, Chastity,Industry,and Largitas.In
performance of the sacrament of penitence is an Nature,"almesdede"replacesLargitas and"goodbesynes"
image of his ascent toward salvation. Each Industry.Chaucer's Parsonlists "humylitie,or mekenesse"
stage-contrition, confession, absolution, and (opp.Pride),love(Charity; opp.Envy),"Debonairetee and
satisfaction-not only represents an act he must Pacience"(opp. Wrath),"fortitudo or strengthe"(opp.
Sloth),"misericorde,pitee, and largesse"(opp.Avarice),
go through to attain purification but also, since abstinence(opp. Gluttony),"chastiteeand continence"
the parts of the sacrament are successive and (opp. Lechery).
472 "Everyman": A Structural Analysis

the Passion, and with elements of devotion, such by his natural attributes teaches him the folly of
as the Pater Noster, which symbolically embody relying upon any earthly supports, worthwhile or
the forces necessary to defeat the Sins.30 Such not; these companions, far better than those he
remediahave greater value for drama because, as sought in vain, can ultimately contribute little of
acts, they call for a performer; someone must value. Strength talks a little too much like Fel-
subscribe to the redeeming value of the Passion, lowship (684-685), while the contrast of the
someone must recite the prayer. In Everyman, frivolity of Beauty (801) and Strength (809,
the defeat of the Sins emerges through the human 824-825) to the new understanding of Everyman
action rather than in conjunction with it because affirms the extent to which the gift of grace has
the hero himself performs the remedial acts of raised him above his natural gifts. Thus his state-
confession3' and penitence.32This second type of ment that "all thynge fayleth, saue God alone"
remedium also accounts for the "digression" on (841), touched as it is with despair, manifests
priesthood, which is in reality a dramatically rather the wisdom and joy of his new awareness.
pertinent focusing upon all seven sacraments, The exit of his bodily attributes visually isolates
each of which was traditionally interpreted as the his strengthened Good Deeds, the evidence of his
opposite of a specific Sin.33The importance of the purified soul. This desertion, which eliminates
episode derives from its naming of the sacra- the earthly and temporal, shows that Everyman
ments (722-727), which effects an incantatory is to leave world and time, to continue his rise
defeat of the Sins. The priest is praised because it above and beyond them to the eternal Heaven,
is he who administers these remedia, thus earning the point from which the falling action began.
the title of "surgyon that cureth synne deedly" The new understanding which Everyman
(744). That the priest is seen as higher than the reveals during the second desertion is sympto-
angels (749) firmly indicates the supreme value of matic of the character change accompanying and
the seven sacraments as remedia. They are the partially realizing the rising action. One of the
ordinary man's closest earthly association with evidences of satisfaction, the final stage of peni-
Heaven, and the last of them, which Everyman tence, is the penitent's "yevynge of good conseil
exits to receive, provides the link between physi- and comfort, goostly and bodily, where men han
cal and spiritual life. Knowledge's fear that some nede."34 Everyman's ultimate ability to exhibit
priests may be corrupt (751-763) re-introduces this proof of satisfaction constitutes the most
two Sins, Avarice and Lechery, thus establishing significant indication of growth in his dramatic
a more precise link between Sins and remedia. character. The man who has persistently sought
When Everyman returns, having "made true advice and information becomes himself an in-
satysfaccyon" (770), the final step of an impor- structor. It is Everyman who, once unfamiliar
tant stage in the rising action is achieved: the with death, explains its nature to Beauty (794-
expulsion from his soul of the Sins which had 799). And it is Everyman who, at the point of his
helped carry him downward toward damnation. own death, can clarify his entire experience for
Everyman's penitence liberates and strength- the spectators, giving them spiritual counsel as
ens Good Deeds and wins him the additional he does so:
companions, Beauty, Discretion, Strength, and Take example,all ye that this do here or se,
Five-Wits. Their arrival visualizes the accom- How they that I loued best do forsakeme,
plished purgation of sin and the resulting restora- Exceptemy GoodDedes that bydethtruely.(867-869)
tion of natural gifts. By completing the acquisi-
tion of useful companions, their arrival also re- With his opened eyes now turned ever up-
solves Everyman's earlier useless search. The wards, Everyman commends his soul into God's
subsequent desertion seems to parallel the deser- hands, then enters his grave and eternal life.
tions in the first half of the play, and Everyman The final speech of Knowledge (888-893) brings
momentarily reacts with the same show of de-
spair. But his despair here suggests only that he 80For the various aspects of Christ's Passion interpreted
has not yet achieved the peak to which he must as remedia, see The Castle, 11.2083 ff. (cf. Chaucer, x [i], 255
ff.). Each of the seven parts of the Pater Noster was con-
rise. Moreover, the despair of the falling action ceived as a remedium for a specific Sin. See Thompson, p.
had steadily increased in force, while here it is 334; Hardin Craig, English Religious Drama of the Middle
transformed into acceptance and understanding. Ages (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1955), p. 338.
31
This despair is as ironic as was the joy with which Bloomfield, pp. 97-99, 149; Chaucer, x (i), 958 if.
82The whole point of the sermon by Chaucer's Parson is
Everyman greeted the easy affirmations of Fel- the remedial function of penitence.
lowship, and works in the same way to emphasize 3 Bloomfield, pp. 214, 217.
the growth of its opposite emotion. The desertion J4Chaucer, x (I), 1030.
Thomas F. Van Laan 473

to a close the temporal phase of the action; but it itself as a pattern in which the hero begins in
already looks upward to the spiritual phase, for relative innocence, falls into a state of degeneracy
Knowledge hears angels singing, making "grete when corrupted by evil, and finally rises to his
ioy and melody / Where Euerymannes soule salvation when converted by the forces of good, a
receyued shall be." The play ends with the pattern which is sometimes repeated for empha-
speech of the Angel who welcomes Everyman as sis, as in The Castle of Perseveranceand Nature.36
"excellente electe spouse to Iesul" (894). The Everyman treats only the coming of death, but
Angel's "Here aboue" (895) denotes the goal of the dramatist has adopted as his disciplining
the rising action, "the heuenly spere" (899), form the same pattern which had proved so fruit-
where further rise is impossible, and continuous ful for the ordered dramatization of the whole
movement freezes in eternal stasis. The Angel's pilgrimage. In Everyman this pattern has even
speech does more than specify the ultimate desti- further significance; it makes the message more
nation of Everyman: it also rounds off the entire complex by going beyond the surface doctrinal
pattern of action by echoing and resolving God's level to the core of Christian theology. The mo-
opening words. There the emphasis had been on ralities teach man's redemption, but more par-
justice and potential damnation. In the speech of ticularly they teach his redemption through
the Angel, which focuses upon Everyman's Christ. Everyman emphasizes this important
"crystall clere" reckoning and consequent salva- distinction through its numerous thematic refer-
tion, the emphasis is all on the other aspect of ences to the Passion.37 The extensive references
God, the mercy which assumes angelic form to make relevant to the meaning of the play another
welcome not only Everyman the individual but version of the same descent-ascent pattern, the
also every man who imitates his purification. Christic action, in which Christ comes from
The structure of Everyman thus constitutes a Heaven to assume human form, suffers death in
complete and continuous pattern, both move- His Crucifixion, descends into Hell, returns to
ments of which receive simultaneous visual sum- worldly life through His Resurrection, and ulti-
mation at the end of the play when Everyman mately re-ascends to Heaven.38 The Christic
enters his grave to attain Heaven.35 The pattern action is pertinent to the meaning of Everyman,
gives value to the play through its function of for it alone has made possible the salvation there
organizing the numerous elements of the action enacted, and in Christian thought the successful
into a form which provides order by keeping each pilgrimage of the individual analogously recre-
element in its proper sequence and provides ates that action. The play's references to the
coherence by according each element its proper Passion show that the parallel between the
amount of emphasis. The pattern further suc- Christic action and Everyman's progress is ex-
ceeds in enriching the play's materials by balanc- plicit. During the first half of the play, when
ing the rising action against the falling action: Everyman is seen as a victim of Adam's fall (145),
instead of standing alone, the various elements, the significance of the Passion is that Everyman
in reflecting upon one another, work together to has separated himself from its redeeming value.
produce a rather complex experience. Finally, the But in the second half, when the references in-
structure is intimately involved in the play's crease, Everyman's progress becomes what that
success as Eliot has defined it, for the descent- of every Christian must be, an imitation of
ascent pattern intensifies both its doctrinal sig-
nificance and its dramatic effectiveness. 35Cf. Cawley'ssuggestionsconcerningthe originalstaging,
The structure forms the message on holy dying pp. xxix-xxx. The "house"of Confessionwas probablya
into an illustrative pattern which not only fur- castlewith heavenlocatedat its top. The grave,then, would
ther clarifies the doctrinal import but also dem- be at the bottom, "so that Everymancould enact his own
salvationby enteringhis graveand ascendingfromit to the
onstrates its validity. As Bernard Spivack has heightsof the 'heuenlyspere'(899)"(p. xxx).
shown in a valuable discussion of the moralities, 36Shakespeareand tIe Allegoryof Evil (New York: Co-
Christian allegory portrayed human action in lumbiaUniv. Press, 1958),pp. 101-103.Cf. David M. Bev-
terms of a moral sequence. In describing human ington, From Mankindto Marlowe(Cambridge:Harvard
Univ. Press,1962),p. 117,passim.The patternis occasionally
life, the allegorist "was concerned with charting made explicit. In Nature, Reason points out that through
the progressive stages of ascent or decline," for acceptingthe Virtues,Man is "lykely to aryse / From the
ascent metaphorically represented the develop- vale of syn whycheys full of derknes/ towardthe contem-
ment of virtue within the human soul, while placyon of lyght that ys endles" (Nature, II.1384-86).
descent represented the aggravation of vice. In 7 See 11. 29-31, 512, 563-565, 582-585, 603, 751-754,
those moralities which dramatize the Psycho- 812, 882.
38On the Christicpattern, see WilliamF. Lynch, S. J.,
machia, the moral sequence ordinarily manifests Christand Apollo(New York, 1960),pp. 13, 15, 40-41.
474 "Everyman": A Structural Analysis

Christ.39The structural pattern thus illustrates Everyman recurs frequently in literature.42 But
how the fallen hero rises through the aid of and in pattern is, of course, an abstract concept; like all
imitation of Christ's Passion, defeating his own abstractions, it can have no real existence apart
sins as Christ had defeated all sin. from its concrete realization in some specific
The fundamental dramatic pleasure evoked by work. For this reason, it is not the mere presence
the play derives from the tensions of the human of the pattern which gives value but the way in
action, but because these tensions are formed which the dramatist has employed it. The superi-
into and intensified by the descent-ascent pat- ority of Everyman to other moralities lies in the
tern, a performance of Everyman arouses in its art of the dramatist, his ability to realize the
spectators an experience of universal application. many complexities in an apparently simple ma-
Maud Bodkin has discerned in Coleridge's Rime terial. The style of the play is an image of that
of the Ancient Mariner a pattern similar to that in artistry. While obviously less mature than the
Everyman.40The importance of this pattern in dramatic styles developed a century later, it
Coleridge's poem, according to Miss Bodkin's merits the high praise in Harley Granville-
analysis, is that it coincides with a frequently- Barker's description of it as "workmanlike."43In
recurring emotional rhythm within the human "its plain, clear diction," it effects, as Cawley
consciousness, the experience which Jung has notes, a "triumph of compromise" between the
called the psychological process of mental and aureate and the overly-colloquial styles of the
spiritual rebirth. This is the process in which the late fifteenth century. Cawley further establishes
individual sinks to a state of hopelessness, frus- the value of the play's style when he sees it fulfill-
tration, and spiritual death, but finds there the ing one of Eliot's foremost requirements for dra-
possibilities which, when acted upon, permit his matic verse: "the freely rhythmical verses of
ascent to a new stage of mental and spiritual Everyman harmonize with its neutral style, so
growth.41 A performance of Everyman effects a that we find ourselves 'consciously attending, not
result for its spectators similar to that which to the poetry, but to the meaning of the poe-
Miss Bodkin receives from a reading of the An- try'."44 But the primary virtue of the style of
cient Mariner. The performance recreates in the Everyman is the quality through which it fulfills
consciousness of its audience an emotional Eliot's plea for "a form of verse in which every-
rhythm which is familiar, universal, meaningful, thing can be said that has to be said."45 The
and, since it carefully alters fully-aroused pity versification ranges from the brief colloquial lines
and fear to sheer joy, extremely pleasurable. which embody the tensions in Everyman's ex-
The structural pattern of Everyman thus in- changes with such characters as Death and
tensifies both the religious and the ordinary Goods, to the formal line-groups which expand
dramatic interests by expanding the focus of the
action to universal dimensions. But as Eliot has
39 See especially11.561-565:"Hereshall you receyuethat
argued, in Everyman the two interests are fused. scourgeof me, / Whicheis penauncestrongethat ye must
The fusion exists because the structural pattern endure/ To remembrethy Sauyourwas scourgedfor the
and the experience of the hero are one. The dra- / With sharpescourges,and suffredit pacyently;/ So must
matic tension emanates from the evolving situa- thou, or thou scape that paynful pylgrymage."On the
tion of the human hero, whose progress in terms Christian'simitation of the Christic pattern, see Lynch,
p. 50.
of sin and redemption-the religious message of 40
ArchetypalPatternsin Poetry (New York, 1958), pp.
the play-establishes the pattern of descent and 52-53: "Withinthe image-sequencesexaminedthe pattern
ascent. In turn, the more universal pleasure appearsof a movement,downward,or inwardtoward the
which the spectators derive from the vivifying of earth's centre, or a cessation of movement-a physical
a potential emotional rhythm forces their sympa- change which. . .appears also as a transition toward
severed relation with the outer world, and, it may be,
thetic participation in all phases of the progress towarddisintegrationand death.The elementin the pattern
which stimulates it. The pleasure thus enforces is balancedby a movementupwardand outward-an expan-
the homiletic message because the doctrine's sion or outburstof activity, a transitiontowardredintegra-
most persuasive advocate is the individual spec- tion and life-renewal."
41
Bodkin, pp. 50-51, 69-70.
tator's desire to give reality and permanence to 42Cf. Northrop Frye, Anatomyof Criticism(Princeton:
the exaltation temporarily instilled by the per- PrincetonUniv. Press, 1957). Frye'saccountsof the quest-
formance of the play. In creating successful romance(p. 187) and comedy(p. 171) give some suggestion
of the universalityof this pattern.
allegory, then, the dramatist has simultaneously 43 On DramaticMethod(New
and of necessity created successful drama. York, 1956), pp. 42-44.
4 Cawley,pp. xxiv, xxviii.
As its presence in other moralities suggests, the 6 "Poetryand Drama,"On Poetryand Poets (New York,
pattern which gives form to the material of 1957),p. 78.
Thomas F. Van Laan 475

with the more elaborate shape of summary (463 scent-ascent pattern because the dramatist has
ff.), doctrine (573 ff.), prayer (581 ff.), and con- seen much of the pattern's potential and has
clusion (894 ff.). The neutral language expresses given it dramatic solidity. In Everyman, the
the situation clearly and succinctly; at the same pattern can intensify the religious significance
time it accommodates without strain the intro- because the dramatist has perceived and utilized
duction of the many proverbs that, spoken prin- the parallel with the Christic action. The pattern
cipally by the hero, lend him universality and can arouse profound psychological response be-
charm, or the images of blindness and the refer- cause through it the dramatist has made his
ences to time, pain, and Christ's Passion which allegory the product of a human action that, in
deepen both emotion and meaning, or the occa- its tensions and ironies, demands the commit-
sional unobtrusive words like "fall" and "here ment of all human beings. It is, in the final analy-
aboue" which crystallize the meaningful struc- sis, the fusion of artistic creativity with poten-
ture. tiality of pattern which makes the parable of
As with style, so with structure. The artistry Everyman a prime example of great religious
which finds a style expressive of its content finds drama.
and develops as well a structural equivalent.
Everymansurpasses numerous other works which RUTGERS UNIVERSITY
achieve form through some variation of a de- New Brunswick, New Jersey

'TIS THE CUSTOMof pedagogues to be eternally


thundering in their pupil's ears, as they were
pouring into a funnel, whilst the business of the
pupil is only to repeat what the others have said.
Now I would have a tutor to correct this error,
and, that at the very first he should according
to the capacity he has to deal with, put it to the
test, permitting his pupil himself to taste things,
and of himself to discern and choose them,
sometimes opening the way to him, and some-
times leaving him to open it for himself; that is, I
would not have him alone to invent and speak,
but that he should also hear his pupil speak in
turn.-Montaigne, "Of the Education of Chil-
dren," Cotton trans.