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    Everyman: The perception and treatment of Death

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    “Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Bible Hub King James Version). “Everyman” is a morality play written in the late fifteenth century by an unknown author, and symbolizes the essence of the correlation between performing good deeds and death.

    Morality plays were allegorical dramas used to instruct audiences in the morals and promises of the Christian faith by using personification. The protagonist, is represented by the character Everyman and Death, Fellowship, and Good Deeds represent personified characters in which the author used so that death is perceived as the inevitable fate of everyman. The author treats Death with the same fear which God is accredited. In “Everyman”, the author perceives death as the inevitable fate that everyone has to undergo by exhibiting how their life is a loan from God.

    The play opens with a messenger addressing the audience and preparing the way for God to enter the scene. When God enters the scene, he provides a brief examination as well as reprimand as to why he has become unhappy with how things down on earth are going. “I perceive, here in My majesty, How that all creatures be to Me unkind, Living without dread in worldly prosperity. Of ghostly sight the people be so blind, Drowned in sin, they know Me not for God. In worldly riches is all their mind; They fear not My righteousness, the sharp rod; They use the seven deadly sins damnable, As pride, covetise, wrath and lechery, Now in the world be made commendable; And thus, they leave of angels, the heavenly company” (Everyman). God professes his displeasure for how people live for their own pleasure, He continues to speak, “My love that I showed when I for them died They forget clean, and shedding of my blood red; I hanged between two, it cannot be denied; To get them life I suffered to be dead; I healed their feet: with thorns hurt was My head. I could no more than I did, truly. And now I see the people do clean forsake Me” (Everyman). God acknowledges that everyman is living on borrowed time, “nor yet for their being that I them have lent.” (Everyman) God then summons His messenger Death, “Almighty God, I am here at Your will, Your commandment to fulfill” (Everyman). God instructs Death to seek out Everyman and take him on a pilgrimage which he cannot escape. The author uses Death as a character to express truth that everyone will, inevitably, come in contact with death. In the play “Everyman”, death is embodied as a representative of God that visits the plays central character, Everyman, to reveals his fate, and conveys to Everyman that his time has come to stand before God for his actions on earth, “that shall I show thee: a reckoning he will needs have; without any longer respite” (Everyman). Every man tries everything from pleads to bribery to be released from his pilgrimage with Death.

    Death reminds every man that he comes for all people. “I am Death, that no man dreadeth; for every man I rest, and no man spareth, for it is God’s commandment; that all to me should be obedient” (Everyman). According to Judith Rosenberg author of ‘Parallels: The Morality Play Everyman and Selected Tales of Nathaniel Hawthorne,’ Everyman’s efforts to bargain with Death establishes life and worldly goods as a loan. In contempt of Everyman’s efforts, he gives in and proclaims “I may say Death giveth no warning: To think on thee, it maketh my heart sick.” The Bible also says in Matthews 24:36 “But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only”. The author portrays Death as an inexorable fate that we all will take at one point in our lives. The author’s perception of death as an inevitable fate continues through the depiction of isolation from mortal relationships. Death allows every man to bring someone with him IF he can find someone to accompany him on his pilgrimage. As every man distress over his fate he attempts to find someone to accompany him on his pilgrimage. Everyman visits his friend, personified as Fellowship.

    At first Fellowship shows concern for Everyman’s despair and agrees not to forsake him; but once he discovers that the Death journey is the cause of Everyman’s grief, Fellowship quickly deserts him. Everyman then pursues the company from his family, Kindred and Cousin. Kindred “Here be we now at your commandment: Cousin, I pray thee, show us your intent In any wise, and do not spare”. Cousin “Yea, Everyman, and to us declare If ye be disposed to go any whither; For, wot ye well, we will live and die together”. But, again once finding out that the Death journey is the cause of Everyman’s grief, Kindred and Cousin both made excuses, one claimed she had a toe cramp and the other kindly offered his maid. COUSIN “No, by our lady, I have a cramp in my toe: Trust not to me; for, so God me speed, I will deceive you in your most need”. KINDRED “It availeth not us to entice; Ye shall have my maid with all my heart; She loveth to go to feasts, there to be nice, And to dance, and abroad to start: I will give her leave to help you in that journey, If that you and she may agree”. His family also abandons him upon discovery of his pilgrimage.

    According to Julie Paulson, author of ‘Death’s Arrival and Everyman’s Separation,’ the play concentrates on Everyman’s increasing isolation as he moves towards death. Paulson elaborates more on the focus of the play’s emphasis on isolation when Everyman’s becomes aware his friendships have limits which were unapparent before Death’s presence. The author’s perception of death relates with his intents on the treatment of death. Every man should fear death the same way they fear God. God referred to Death as his “mighty messenger.” When Death is summoned by God he simply replies. “Almighty God, I am here at your will, your commandment to fulfill” (Everyman). Death’s reply can be seen as a reflection of faith, honor, and obedience which are the qualities God requests from every man. Exodus 19:5 5 says “Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine” (Bible Hub King James Version). Death is God’s messenger whose chief purpose is to summon every man to account for his iniquities and should be feared. Likewise, the author’s intentions for the treatment of death reflect on Scripture as he tries to teach the audience about Christian morals, “Praise the LORD.

    Blessed is the man who fears the LORD, who finds great delight in his commands” (Ps 112:1). One who fears the Lord joyfully follows God’s commands, Death was eager to follow and obey God’s instructions. As stated by the messenger, “Ye think sin in the beginning full sweet, which in the end causeth the soul to weep, when the body lieth in clay.” It would befit everyman to fear Death since in the end God sends death in response to the world’s wickedness (Everyman). Not only advocating for God, Death is also the result of God’s judgment. God notes his only means of getting man’s attention is through death. God, “Therefore I will haste, have a reckoning of every man’s person…That needs on them I must do justice, on every man living without fear” (Everyman). In correspondence to life as loan from God, every man is held accountable for sins committed throughout his “lent” life. God alone judges every man for their iniquities, therefore Death should be feared. Death decrees, “Lord, I will in the world go run overall, and cruelly outsearch both great and small; every man will I beset that liveth beastly, against God’s laws, and dreadth not folly” (Everyman).

    Death is the end of Everyman’s physical journey and the beginning of Everyman’s spiritual journey to everlasting life. Everyman may be regarded as the best morality play written. The unknown author’s personified characters present the audience with a play where death is perceived as the inevitable fate of every human; therefore, Death should be treated with the same fear which God is accredited. God is the Creator, Savior, and Judge worthy of fear and when He is not remembered for what He has done for every man, Death becomes the reminder. We must all remember in order to live we must die.

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    Everyman: The perception and treatment of Death. (2022, Jan 27). Retrieved from

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