Morality Plays are allegorical plays that teach moral lessons and were especially popular with the medieval audience. 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 the play has value beyond such narrow focus. A closer evaluation of the plot and characters would support this assertion. Tanner strives to restore the play by unveiling the humor in it and 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 expressing his disgust towards the critic’s reviews, he claims that the critics underestimate the use of humor in morality plays and have given them a bad name. He then suggests 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 (150),” Tanner explains. Tanner claims that this sets a alliance between the audience and the unaware characters and this, draws the audience in. It also creates empathy from the audience towards the characters which creates humor. Tanner claims that the introduction to the play and Everyman’s defiance would “slightly amuse (150)” the medieval audience. Throughout the article he emphasizes the humor in “stupid, ignorant (154)” characters which allows the audience to feel superior. Irony can also be found is in the first half of the play when Everyman is searching for someone to accompany him on his journey to meet God. While Everyman seeks the help of Fellowship, Kindred, and Goods, humor can be sensed in these exchanges. When Fellowship offers to accompany his friend, saying that even if "thou go to hell, / I will not forsake thee (153)," the audience can understand the irony here for no one would accompany their friend to hell. Meanwhile, the audience is already aware of Everyman’s journey and knows that Fellowship is obviously making empty promises. Fellowship promises near seven times to help Everyman before even 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 (Fordham.edu)," as if Everyman was not about to face his death.
Tanner next elaborates on the more obvious humor in the play when Everyman attempts to bribe Death with “a thousand pounds (150)” to come back another day. Everyman is being summoned partly because of his obsession with riches and then has the audacity to attempt to bribe Death who makes it clear that it is the end. Tanner points out that...