Everyman: Resources for the Morality Play

A media mix brings Everyman to life

My senior British literature classes ended the first semester with a study of Everyman, the 1510 morality play.

Again, just as with The Canterbury Tales and Le Morte d’Arthur, I felt challenged to find a supplemental text and activities as a result of the minimal two-page treatment our older textbook devoted to the play. When barely two pages of a translated Everyman script appear in the text, it makes it difficult for readers to recognize the importance of the literature. Therefore, my job was to find other materials in order to make Everyman come alive for my students.

Morality plays visited medieval villages and presented pageants.
This medieval village may have, at one time in the high Middle Ages, have hosted travelling miracle plays and eventually morality plays. | Photo by Lisa Fotios from Pexels

And in the end, I did manage to create lessons and activities that — based on reflections written by my students at semester’s end (plus test scores, obviously) — resulted in engaged students and knowledge gained.

In case you’re unfamiliar with this play, Everyman represents the beginning of English theater and is the best surviving example of a kind of medieval drama known as the “morality play.” Everyman uses allegory to present a message prevalent in British society — and Europe, in general — that good deeds are necessary to earn salvation in the afterlife. This theme illustrates that the play was written before the Protestant Reformation when Europe was largely dominated by the Roman Catholic Church.

Despite its rather didactic religious overtones, Everyman can be great fun!

That’s why, in addition to some basic publisher-supplied worksheets to help my students learn some vocabulary and context, I decided to have students perform and watch Everyman rather than read it from a textbook.

To that end, I’ve included some basic details about the materials I used. Here are those Everyman resources:

1. Stage Performance: Splendid Productions’ Everyman

This play, professionally produced and performed by a theater troupe in the United Kingdom, captivated my students with its unusual scenery, ridiculous humor, outrageous characters, and creative treatment of the medieval play.

Actors perform Everyman, the Morality Play
The character Friendship entices Everyman with a funny proposition in Splendid Productions’ version of Everyman, the morality play. Photo: Splendid Productions

The play lasts 55 minutes. Since watching it, plus having a short discussion couldn’t quite be squeezed into my sixty-minute class, I spread Everyman across two class periods, watching about forty minutes of it one day, and then finishing on the following day.

I created this fun Everyman “playbill” for my students so our in-classroom viewing would seem more like a real in-theater presentation.

A playbill resource Marilyn Yung made for Everyman, the morality play.
I created this “playbill” for my students from photos found on the company’s website. | Photos: Lewis Wileman

I prepped students by explaining that the play would differ somewhat from the reader’s theater version of Everyman we had read earlier (see below for a link to the reader’s theater product on Teacher Pay Teachers), and I also challenged them to notice how the treatments differ.

To view Splendid Productions Everyman, you will need to create an account on Vimeo.com, and then purchase the play for $10.50. Your purchase will allow you to access the video for thirty days.

I really can’t recommend this Everyman production highly enough. I think your students will love it.

Three actors perform Everyman, the Morality Play
The entire Splendid Productions’ Everyman cast consists of three actors. Two actors (at left) perform the myriad roles in the play: Friendship, Riches, Strength, and of course, Good Deeds, the only character that will follow us into Death. The third actor (at right) plays the role of Everyman.

My students were engaged the entire time with Splendid’s presentation of Everyman and found it funny, compelling, and meaningful. It’s $10.50 well spent. (One can order a DVD instead of streaming the play via Vimeo on your computer; it will be formatted to play in U.S. players.) Through an email with Splendid’s Associate Director Ben Hales, “The only consideration is they (the DVDs) are in PAL format which may cause an issue with some TVs, but the discs are compatible with all computer systems. Our DVD prices include shipping worldwide and we haven’t had any returns from US customers.”

2. Translated Text: Norton Literature Anthology

No, we didn’t read this Everyman translation in full. Since it’s an especially cumbersome text and both of my British Literature classes are late in the afternoon when energy levels lag, I decided to read a mere one or two pages of this version. I did this so students could hear a short blurb of a traditional translation of the play, and then compare it later to the other genres discussed in class.

A photo of an Everyman resource, Norton Anthology of English Literature, that contains Everyman the play.
My trusty old Norton anthology is always at the ready!
3. Script: Reader’s Theater for Everyman

I ordered this Everyman reader’s theater play from Teaching and Motivating Teens on TpT.

A picture of another Everyman morality play resource.
This reader’s theater script from Teaching and Motivating Teens at TpT is a winner.

Divided into three acts, this reader’s theater version of Everyman was a lot of fun. I let students choose the roles they would like to read, and encouraged them to be dramatic and over-the-top with their voices and gestures. My students, however, are quite reticent and shy, and require quite a bit of prodding to even “pretend” to be dramatic!

Overall, reading this play was a winner! The script showed them the gist of the play’s action and helped them master the play’s characterization and dialogue.

4. Video: The Emergence of Drama as Literary Art

Watch this TED Ed video to give your students some context for this famous play. The video discusses the differences among mystery plays, miracle plays, and finally morality plays, which were allegorical moral stories with characters with names such as Charity, Knowledge, and Patience.

A photo of an allegorical character, Patience, similar to other characters in Everyman, the morality play.
This 1539 engraving by Heinrich Aldegrever shows Patience as a human character. Public Domain

These characters teach viewers a lesson, one sanctioned by the prevailing Roman Catholic Church. Definitely use this video to connect Everyman to earlier dramas.

This video provides a sufficient dose of context. It reveals how morality plays developed out of the tradition of mystery and miracle plays.

If you teach a traditional British Literature class like I do, I hope this post provides some new resources for teaching Everyman. It’s a fun play and lends itself well to a mix of interpretations and media. Bookmark this post so you can find it when you need it the next time you teach this foundational text.

Need a new poetry lesson?

Enter your email below and I’ll send you this PDF file that will teach your students to write Treasured Object Poems, one of my favorite poem activities. I know your students will enjoy it!

Treasured Object Poem worksheet
Treasured Object Poems

Success! You're on the list.

Thanks for reading again this week!

Please like, comment, become a follower, or subscribe above for more ELA teaching ideas and resources.

Published by Marilyn Yung

Writes | Teaches | Not sure where one ends and the other begins.

3 thoughts on “Everyman: Resources for the Morality Play

Leave a Reply