The Author’s Perception of Death in Everyman

Introduction

This paper will attempt to detail the author’s perception of death in the morality play. The play narrates the life and demise of the lead character, Everyman. The lead Character comes out as an allegorical character that signifies humanity. At the beginning of the play, God is displeased with Everyman because of his greed for material possession. God, therefore, sends Death to him to pass a message that his life will end. On receiving the news, he attempts to bribe Death with material possessions but Death declines. Death doesn’t have any need for earthly possessions, and this seals Everyman’s fate. Death is viewed negatively, because the lead protagonist tried to bribe Death to evade it. Death informs Everyman that he must undertake a pilgrimage of the soul and stand before God to be judged (Goldhamer, 1973). The protagonist tries to plead, so that he can be relieved from his pilgrimage even asking for the journey to be postponed for a day, but Death recaps to him that he comes for all persons in turn. He grieves at his fortune and tries to find company and relief for his pilgrimage.

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In the first instance, Everyman seeks solace amongst his friends, who are allegorized by Fellowship. To begin with, his friend shows great worry on the protagonist’s predicament and pledges his support and undying fealty. However, when he learns that the protagonist will undergo a pilgrimage, he deserts him to his fortune. After this abandonment, Everyman turns to Kindred and Cousin with the belief that familial bond supersedes those of friendship. But to his dismay, family, too, deserts him in his time of need, despite pledging their undying devotion and support. Finally, he opts to turn to possession that he amassed over the years. He now believes that his wealth will escort him on his pilgrimage. But like others before his earthly wealth forsake him, and he is left to face the consequences of his actions.

The protagonist now despairs and turns to his good deeds. When he calls out for good deeds, he only hears a faint and weak reply, and this is accredited to the point that his good deeds were minimal when likened to his sins. In spite of this, Good Deeds offers counsel recommending Everyman to call Knowledge to offer guidance during his pilgrimage. Knowledge then prepares him for confession. After making a repentant and truthful account of his life, the lead character finds Good Deeds rejuvenated and can rise from the grime (Avery, 2000). Together, they advise Everyman to call upon his other attributes, Strength, Five Wits, and Discretion, to prepare him for the pilgrimage to withstand judgment from God. The protagonist’s attributes offer solace and support by offering counsel on the pilgrimage ahead. Each of his attributes pledges to stand by him throughout the entire journey, but as he approaches his end, all are taken aback. Beauty is the first to abandon him; second is Strength, preceded by Discretion, and finally, his Five Wits. Eventually, Knowledge cautions him that he, too, will desert him but at the very end. Everyman now realizes that only Good Deeds will escort him during the pilgrimage to withstand judgment from God.

Everyman’s sorrowful, repentant and honest confession, sustained by his Good Deeds permits him to be taken into the Realm of Heaven. As an Angel is ushering him into Heaven, a Doctor who allegorizes an intelligent theologian in feudal times comes on stages and provides the morals of the play. The Doctor cautions the protagonist that family, friends and material possessions cannot escort him on his final pilgrimage and that even Strength, Beauty and Five Senses will forsake him (Van Laan, 1963). The Doctor expresses to him that the size of his Good Deeds is insufficient, and thus he cannot be ushered into Heaven. To conclude, the Doctor says that if the protagonist can give a clear account of his good deeds, then the Realm of Heaven would belong to him.

Summary of Allegorical Characters

According to author Goldhamer (1973), allegory is a term that is used to describe the representation of an abstract principle by figures or characters. Allegory is often used in literary works, and often has secondary significance or meaning. The morality play has various allegorical figures, all of which help shape the play and achieve the author’s intention.

The protagonist, Everyman, is a representation of mankind in general. He is preoccupied with amassing wealth and shows little regard for others, living an aberrant life (Van Laan, 1963). From the play, we learn that he dresses in the finest clothes and has led a sinful and wild life. He is told that he is going to die, which is why he undertakes a pilgrimage to absolve himself of iniquities. He is abandoned by all that seemed close to him. In the play, Death is representative of God’s mighty messenger who visits Everyman who dies and faces judgment from God. From the onset of the play, Death visits Everyman and informs him that he will spend a day and face God’s judgment. Fellowship is a representation of friendship and friends who forsake Everyman when they know his fate. Fellowship suggests going to have fun rather than undertaking the pilgrimage to death. Kindred is a representative of the family, which also abandons Everyman when he needed them the most. Cousins are representatives of people who are related to Everyman. So when Cousins forsake him, it signifies the fact that people related to him abandon him.

Material possession is an allegorical character that represents our personal belongings that we amass on earth. When Everyman’s possession forsake him, this is a representation of the fact that we can’t take our belonging with us when we die. Good Deeds is the only person who sticks with Everyman to the end. Good Deeds is representative of our good actions we do for others. Knowledge is representative of acknowledgment of sin because it guides Everyman to Confession. Confession is representative of repentance and acknowledgment for Everyman’s inequities in life. Beauty is representative of appearance and glamor; Strength is representative of might. Strength is one of the last characters to desert the protagonist. Discretion is representative of the ability of Everyman to make a wise decision. Discretion also forsakes him in the second part of the play. Five Wits are representative of the five human senses, sight, touch, smell and hearing. The Angel is representative of a heavenly being who will be held Everyman’s Book of Judgment. The Doctor is representative of a brilliant theologian in feudal times, who appears to give the epilog.

The Author’s Perception of Death

In the morality play, Everyman, the author makes nonfigurative concepts real for readers not contented with abstraction. Thus the desertion of Everyman by Fellowship, Kinder, Cousin and the rest is made tangibly real for the readers. The separation of Everyman from his earthly possession by Death is what is being dramatized in this play.

According to D’Aponte (1990), the author has a precise comprehension of death. The point that the author drives at is the fact that only good deeds will help Everyman get to the kingdom of heaven is of the utmost significance. The author thus gives a very crucial lesson in morality on death. The author interprets Death as something that should be valued and honored (Walker, 1997). For the author, Death has specific rules that people must abide by. In the pursuit for death, people must find out certain truths about their lives and the associates they acquaint with. The author also portrays death as something that should be treated with both fear and respect.

Everyman perceives death as undeniable, and treats it at something that people should expect. The author uses death as an allegory of real death to help the audience visualize the invisible concept (Avery, 2000). Even though the fear of death is normal amongst persons, the author demonstrates that God has power over death, and He uses it to bring people back to Him. Strength, Beauty and Five Wits are meant to accompany Everyman as he faces death though they cannot escort him to eternity.

When God sends Death to Everyman to tell him that he must embark on a pilgrimage, Death delivers this information without distortion (Avery, 2000). The author thus depicts death as being obedient to the will of God. God is the reigns supreme over death.

According to author Homan, (1997) death is also painted as unexpected and abrupt. When Death visits the protagonist, he is distressed because he lacks a ready account of his existence. He tries to bribe Death and pleads with Death for more time, but Death declines all his requests. Eventually, Death allows him to choose a companion who will give an account of Good Deeds in the time of judgment.

However, in spite of the protagonist’s sinful nature, we see God pardoning him and granting him a second chance to repent his inequities. The Day of Judgment is Inevitable, and when the time comes, all men will be adjudicated based on their actions. The author points out that we should not put too much emphasis on associates and material possessions, as they might desert us. Everyman repents, and God forgives him, and Good Deeds gain power and escort him to judgment.

Conclusion

The aim of eternal life forms the tone of the play. Everyman is an illustration that every person who wants to inherit eternal life must be saved. The play depicts Death as a spiritual journey with God to the realm of heaven. All persons will be held responsible for their action on the Day of Judgment. Death is portrayed as a gateway to usher people into eternal life, and, at the same time, hold people accountable for their activities while on earth.

 

References

Avery, G. (2000). Intimations of mortality: the puritan and evangelical message to children. In Representations of Childhood Death (pp. 87-110). Palgrave Macmillan UK.

D’Aponte, M. G. (1990). ” Everyman and roach” in Retrospect: A Study of Street Theatre. Journal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism4(2), 165-178.

Goldhamer, A. D. (1973). Everyman: A dramatization of death.

Homan, R. L. (1997). The everyman movie, circa 1991. Journal of Popular Film and Television25(1), 21-30.

Van Laan, T. F. (1963). Everyman: A structural analysis. Publications of the Modern Language Association of America, 465-475.

Walker, G. (1997). Play: Everyman.