Everyman is generally agreed to be a translation of a 921 line long Flemish morality play called Elckerlijc written by Peter van Diest, first printed in 1495, and a later version in 1518. There has been considerable controversy surrounding the relationship between these two plays, with some literary historians arguing for the priority of the Dutch, and others the English version. Most of the arguments rely on the superiority of one play or another in quality, and thus the assumption goes, the better quality play must be the original, since most translations are never as good as the original. A pro-Dutch argument is that the near-total absence of humor in the play is atypical of an English morality drama. E.R. Tigg's found many of Elckerlijc rhymes were copied and the lines were translated pretty closely, strongly suggesting Everyman is the derivative translation. However, it is also perfectly credible that an English translator should have added a rhyming tag to each of a pair of words that rhyme in Dutch but not in English. Although there is no irrefutable factual evidence, based on the balance of evidence, it is generally agreed the Dutch is the original.
The two earliest complete copies of Everyman were printed in London by John Scot in the 1520s. The Dutch schoolmaster and playwright Georgius Macropedius (1487 Ė 1558) had his Latin version published in 1539 in Antwerp and was a huge success, his play was printed and performed in Danish, Dutch, German, Latin, and Swedish. Numerous performances mainly in 16th and 17th century Germany are known.
Everyman, an allegorical figure of the every man, is summoned by the allegorical figure of death to journey to God to account for the life he has been lent. He discovers that his friends Fellowship, Kindred, Cousin, Goods, and Knowledge will not go with him. It is Good Deeds (or Virtue), whom he previously neglected, who finally supports him and who offers to justify him before the throne of God. Lines from this play provided the inspiration for the name of the popular literature series Everyman's Library.