Most morality plays focus on subjects such as politics and social issues or the more dominant category of good and evil, in this case, the battle for the human soul. This play is devoted to a day that every human has to confront, judgment day. Each character, both inside and out of the protagonist help to save or obstruct the path Everyman takes to reach his salvation. The play also emphasizes grim humor as it deals with death and the internal situations occurring prior to the encounter with death. Once the protagonists’ figurative friends abandon him, the pressing importance for Everyman to find a solution to his problem becomes greater. In the end, Knowledge leads Everyman and teaches him the overall lesson that one needs to learn to be saved. By using religion and allegorical characters throughout the play, Death is portrayed as the inescapability of one’s destiny.
The inescapability of death is one of the leading themes throughout the play. It is the idea that death is something horrendous that everyone has to go through. Once one is brought into this world, they thereafter carry death with them. No one can escape death and the final judgement as said by God on line 69 where Everyman has been chosen to go on the pilgrimage of “which he in no wise may escape” (Everyman, 69). Death is an aspect of life that no one can control. People occupy themselves with riches and goods of the earth but those material things cannot give you salvation in the end.
The finality of death is perceived as something that takes away all earthly pleasures. Fear encompasses those who are bound by earthly possessions, the ones who are in fear of facing their mortality. At the beginning of the play, Death proclaims that it is a weapon, one that punishes those who “liveth beastly out of God’s laws” (Everyman, 74-75). Death is seemingly only fearful to those living in sin. It is the separator between the earth and eternal happiness or damnation. Everyman at the beginning of the play does not understand the hasty appearance of Death and that he comes “without any advisement” and does not wait for any man (Everyman, 183). Overall the scope of death throughout the play is vast. It is unavoidable and always looming around those living, serving at God’s will as a veil between earthly worlds and eternal happiness or damnation.
There is a connection through the written word, an infiltration of religious values where there is an afterlife post physical death, to the Christian faith. The pilgrimage to the grave begins with death personified in to a character then back into the present as Everyman goes about the pilgrimage throughout the remaining parts of the play. First, using the word “pilgrimage” meaning a journey taken to a religious place connects to an aspect of religion. Until the end of the play, Death does not appear as a physical character. The call to judgment day sparked fear into Everyman’s heart that hastened his journey to salvation. With each friend Everyman came across, he was abandoned. At first, Everyman confides his sorrows in Fellowship after the visit from Death. After a slight conversation, Everyman tell Fellowship of the news received directly from death though not beneficial. Fellowship, a character based on companionship, denies Everyman for “if Death were the messenger, for no man that is living today I will not go that loath journay” (Everyman, 266-269). Though Everyman’s first friend denied him, he keeps trying with Kindred and Cousin while withholding who directly gave him the message. After trying three other friends, all denied following Everyman in his voyage to judgment in front of God.
The third friend, Goods, who Everyman loved best was the one who was there for him the least in his time of need. Goods says “I follow no man in such voyages” on line 415. At this point, Everyman recognizes that Goods would only guaranty that he would confirm Everyman’s damnation as noted on lines 474 through 475, “…for my Goods sharply did me tell that he bringeth many into hell”. This connects back to the beginning of the play where Death is called upon by God. Death proclaims “he that loveth riches I will strike with my dart” as punishment for living outside of God’s laws (Everyman, 76). Death in this play associate living with earthly materialistic goods and goals as living without and going against God’s laws, a Christian value that equates to sins that need to be expunged in order to be saved.
Though death is tragic and feared by most, it is a gateway to salvation. A specific meaning of death in “Everyman” is that without death there would be no God and vice versa. At the end of the play, once the journey has concluded Everyman is forsaken by most of his friends including Beauty, Five-Wits, Strength, and Discretion. At the closing of the play, the Doctor or learned theologian explains the meaning of the play. Every detail relates back to Christian values and living without vanity, objects and goods, and pride but save good deeds for they will guide on judgment day. Death initiates the process of salvation, of realizing what matters in the eyes of God and what does not. Death is only a messenger between God and humans because “every man liveth so after his own pleasure”, the outcome of humans’ betrayal is to “have a reckoning of every man’s person” (Everyman, 40,46). At the start of the play God’s personified character gave the reasons behind the judgment day and a reason for death, those who live without fear because of vanity and materialistic goods.
Most of the play is consumed by the thought of the inherent value of life, the thought that humans are here by right. In “Everyman”, the meaning of death and life are directly correlated to Christian religious beliefs at the time of composition. God proclaims at the beginning of the play that humans are living unconscious of the sacrifices He had given for them to be alive, He declares “to get them the life I suffered to be dead” (Everyman, 33). The act of Death delivering the message that Everyman will be judged by God signifies the moment that Everyman begins to reevaluate his life. Once called to death, the only thing you can take with you into the grave is your good deeds. In the play Knowledge and Everyman make a journey to the house of salvation, but before they encountered Good Deeds.
For after salvation and forgiveness, Everyman and Good Deeds go together into death’s arms, “then go you with your reckoning and your Good Deeds together” (Everyman, 28-29). It is known throughout morality that one descends into the grave and faced death alone. The allegorical characters that were personified, such as Good Deeds, emphasized that good deeds are the only aspect of your living soul that goes with you beyond the grave. The themes of death and religion intertwine throughout Everyman for the singular lesson to be taken is that one’s actions in life relate mutually with how one is judged come their time of death. All earthly pleasures and goods fall away while good deeds and sins continue on past the grave. All of these attributes are in line with Christian values and theology, though the play itself does not single out Christianity but is a universal lesson.
Another way death can be perceived throughout Everyman is that he is a servant of God and his values. Everyman was destined to die but he found a way through his at one time abandoned personal religious beliefs, in this case, Christianity, that were translated during the whole of the play that got him past physical death and into everlasting life in heaven. The portrayal of heaven and hell plays on fear and redemption around death and God. The fear of unavoidable death had pushed Everyman into accepting it. Persuaded through internal and external figurative characters to give up vanity, pride, and love of goods. He symbolizes that even in the face of death and fear of losing earthly pleasures, one can be saved once one have learned the universal lesson.
That lesson is that the only things that matter in the afterlife are good deeds, not material wealth or earthly possessions. Death can also suggest God’s grace. At the beginning, Death proclaims that he waits for no man and does not take bribes but allows Everyman to have more time in order for him to learn what life is actually about. By way of Death, God’s grace gives Everyman salvation and redemption while death restores the Christian values on Everyman’s pilgrimage. This is seen on line 141 as Death advises Everyman to test his values or by pattern, personified characters, in a quick manner, (but haste thee lightly that thou were gone that journey and prove thy friends if thou can. For weet thou well the tide abideth no man” (Everyman, 141-143). Death is a reminder to Everyman that everyone has to pay for their actions that have been committed throughout their lives come judgment day.
Inevitability and certainty of death is often imposing. It is seen as a cause of loneliness and alienation as one by one each character abandons Everyman on his journey. Each fear the judgment of God and impending death, the finality of losing what they devoted their lives to doing and paying for how they have spent their time. Death comes when Everyman least expects it, “thou comest when I had thee least I mind” (Everyman, 119) and takes him by surprise. A religious view is that God is always watching even when we have forgotten him. As God says on line 35, “and now I see the people do clean forsaken me” as humans have turned to earthly pleasures without looking to God for happiness (Everyman, 35).
By our hand alone is the reason death had come upon Everyman, to make an example out of someone who lives in riches and does not live in fear of reckoning with God. Only after the confrontation with Death is Everyman thinking of him. From that point forward, Death hangs over Everyman’s head until his sins are expunged and God’s grace grants him salvation. Alone after being abandoned by his friends, Everyman is alienated as “all [friends] forsake me in the ending” (Everyman, 471). Those that he relied on most, especially Goods, would only lead him to hell. At this point, Death has instilled more Christian values unto Everyman. Death is deemed to be the root cause of abandonment throughout the play. The play demonstrates that Death is something that no one can evade and that one’s destiny is unavoidable.
A play devoted to the day of judgment emphasizes through the allegorical character Death, that God’s grace and values will lead to redemption. All earthly possessions and pleasures fade along with vanity and pride. Over, the intertwining of death and religion is the driving force behind the themes presented in Everyman.
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