The Morality play can be defined as an “allegorical play popular especially in the 15th and 16th centuries in which the characters personify abstract qualities or concepts which involve a direct conflict between right and wrong or good and evil and from which a moral lesson may be draw (Webster).” Today, the morality play Everyman, is occasionally performed or read at colleges and church organizations. These productions are usually academic in nature or focused on religious ideology. Ron Tanner author of Humor in Everyman and the Middle English Morality Play argues that this play has value beyond such narrow focus. A closer evaluation of the plot and characters would support his assertion. Therefore, Tanner sets out to prove the critics wrong and unveil the humor in the morality play Everyman by comparing it with two other morality plays, Mankind and Youth.
Morality plays have a reputation of being dreary, grim and didactic, but Tanner knows this not to be true. He begins his argument by asserting his disgust towards the critics and their opinions about the morality play Everyman. He tells us that today’s critics underestimate the use of humor in morality plays and have given them a bad name. He offers three examples of humor in just the beginning of the play; Everyman’s attempt to negotiate with death; Everyman’s conversations with Fellowship, then with Kindred and Cousin.
“The playwrights main instrument of humor in these plays is irony, particularly dramatic irony” Tanner explains. Tanner claims that this sets a collusion between the audience and the unaware characters and this draws the audience in. It also creates sympathy from the audience towards the characters. Tanner claims that the introduction to the play and Everyman’s defiance will “slightly amuse” the medieval audience. Throughout the article he stresses the humor found in “stupid, ignorant” characters which allows the audience to feel superior. A second place where irony or humor can be found is in the first half of the play when Everyman is searching for someone to accompany him in his journey to meet God. While Everyman is seeking the help of Fellowship, Kindred, and Goods, there is humor in their exchanges. When Fellowship offers to accompany his good friend, saying that even if "thou go to hell, / I will not forsake thee (153)," the audience understands the irony found here. Fellowship promises near seven times to help Everyman before hearing of his dilemma. Goods, having told Everyman that he should have used his money to help the poor, says that he must be off to deceive another just as he has deceived Everyman. He leaves saying, "Have good day," as if Everyman was not about to face his death. Undoubtedly , there is some irony found within these scenes, but is it enough to be humorous?
Tanner next elaborates on the more obvious humor in the play when Everyman attempts to bribe Death with “a thousand pounds” to come back another day. Everyman is being summoned...