Regardless of time, death has always been perceived as something to be feared and dreaded. In most cases, it has been characterized as the ultimate punishment. However, Everyman is a play that describes death as having a nobler purpose other than acting as the ultimate punishment and taking lives.
The author’s characterization and perception of death in the play illustrate death as God’s messenger; therefore, the primary purpose of death is to remind every man of God’s benevolence. As such, no man can escape death subsequently making God’s will and power manifest. Death is inevitable; unfortunately for Everyman, he cannot be bribed or convinced to spare the life of an individual whose time for reckoning has come.
Inherently, the play Everyman has dark themes that illustrates the frailty of man’s nature showing the consequences of choices and actions taken by men (Garvey, 2006). The author integrates religious concerns in the play that prevailed in the fifteenth century. At that time, death was considered as the ultimate price that had to be paid by those who disobeyed God, hence their reckoning. The corruption of morals in the society that was fervently religious was attributed to human weaknesses in the face of worldly temptations and those things that made men stray from religion, hence from God (Adu-Gyamfi & Schmidt, 2011).
The author uses the characters of God, Everyman, Death, Fellowship, Good-Deeds, and others to illustrate the weak nature of men in the face of worldly pleasures and riches. The play takes a moral outlook towards the issue of Everyman’s abandonment of God and his ways. As such, the play has a role of elucidating the dynamic ways in which a man lacks morals in thoughts and actions until the time death calls upon him.
The author uses death as a wake-up call to the man who has forgotten that God does not approve the fact that man has abandoned his duty to worship and abide by God’s Laws. As such, the choice to pursue the vain pleasures and riches of the world makes God angry, and He decides that it is time for man’s reckoning; consequently, he sends death to his ever faithful servant.
Death and God
God is illustrated in the play as the almighty creator of all things including Death. In his disappointment with Everyman’s actions, God summons death, who unlike Everyman obeys without question when summoned. Death is a messenger of God who is sent to Everyman and living things on earth. As such, God takes pride in death, his most loyal servant who does not fail in his missions despite the many temptations.
The reckoning of Everyman can only be achieved through death since though God has been always there for Everyman, he has chosen to abandon God in pursuit of pleasure and riches. Since, Everyman is an embodiment of God’s most beautiful creation, it pains him when Everyman disobeys and becomes influenced by the world. Therefore, death is summoned: “Where art thou, Death, thou mighty messenger?” (Halsall,1998).
Death is an obedient servant of God; he reveres and follows God’s commandments. When God calls upon death to fulfill His wishes, He does not stray or waive his mission to relay God’s message and bring Everyman to his reckoning before the Almighty God. Therefore, death is obedient to God as his creator and commander; when called upon, he responds to God’s call, “Almighty God, I am here at your will, your commandment to fulfil” (Halsall, 1998).
In addition, death does not discriminate or favor anyone irrespective of riches, status, or personality; as a result, each person must face the reckoning through death without fail. In his execution of God’s orders, Death is not corrupt, waived, or persuaded to act contrary to God’s wishes by Everyman, an indication of his strength of character, absolute faith, and obedience to God.
Death and Everyman
God’s displeasure in Everyman’s actions leads to the decision that he (Everyman) must take a pilgrimage that cannot be escaped for his reckoning. Everyman is not aware that his reckoning is near and continues his business as usual; however, Death approaches as a messenger of God and brings about the realization that his time in the world is almost over. Death relays God’s message that Everyman must take a pilgrimage to his reckoning, but he cannot return. The author uses death as both the messenger who relays God’s message and takes of Everyman to his reckoning. It is evident that Everyman has forgotten God, but God has not forgotten Everyman.
The realization that Everyman must take a long journey that has no return to the reckoning before God makes him afraid of death. Death reminds Everyman of his duty that he has failed; therefore, he must answer for his deeds and the manner in which he spent his life. Significantly, the author describes death as a sudden and unexpected visitor; therefore, Everyman is not ready to receive or oblige his request.
The fact that in the society in which the play was written, death was perceived not only as a rite of passage to the heaven but also as the ultimate price that must be paid by sinners makes Everyman terrified (Kennedy & Gioia, 2010). The realization that Death has come making him embark on a pilgrimage that he cannot avoid makes Everyman revert to his human weakness and in the process he attempts to bribe Death.
However, death is not convinced since he is faithful only to God; as such, he must do as God commands. Death has no respect for Everyman or any man, because he is the ultimate destroyer of all things, and all living things must suffer death sooner or later. Death asserts that he will go all over the world seeking both great and small men, and every man that lives contrary to God’s commandments will suffer the consequences. In this respect, death does not respect Everyman primarily because he is a sinner and has forgotten God, a fact that makes him subject to Death’s grip and wrath.
On the other hand, Everyman respects Death and is aware of the consequences that he must face as a result of his deeds and way of life. It is evident that Death visits Everyman at the time when he expects it the least; therefore, he attempts to buy more time and laments that had he been given a specific time that death would visit, he would amend his ways.
The author integrates biblical teachings of the unexpectedness of death since no one knows the time when death comes for them (Genesis 27:1, King James Version Online). In this respect, Everyman is caught unaware and attempts to reason with Death arguing that he should come another day so that he (Everyman) can have time to mend his deeds with the aim of seeking redemption and easing his impending judgment.
The author illustrates Death as someone that cannot be reasoned with people’s attempt to pray for more time promising to be obedient; death does not grant such wishes. The first thing that Everyman begins to do is bargaining with Death and stating that he is not ready yet. “Everyman’s inability to recognize the permanence of Death’s ‘journey’ raises the question for the audience of what might constitute such a recognition.” (Paulson, 2007).
Everyman is corrupt; it is seen in his attempt to bribe Death shows that Everyman perceives it as someone to be bargained with. However, once God sends death to fetch him, he realizes that there will be no bargaining, and he must take on the journey without return leaving behind all those he held close and treasured. When bargaining with Death, Everyman enquired if he could have companionship for the pilgrimage journey; Death, in turn, allows him to ask if anyone would be willing to take this journey with him and Death.
In Everyman’s life, a number of people helped him in his deeds, merry-making, and the enjoyment of worldly pleasures. These included Fellowship, Kindred, Cousin, Goods, and weakened Good-Deeds. Though Everyman seeks the accompaniment of Fellowship, Kindred, Cousin, and Goods, they refuse to accompany him on such a perilous journey.
Everyman comes to the realization that though these close associates were there in his lifetime during his merry-making and contributed towards his lifestyle and riches, they cannot not accompany him in his reckoning journey. Evidently, all of them, except for Good-Deeds, are earthbound, that enables them to contribute to Everyman’s deviation from God’s commandment, but they do not accompany him in suffering the consequences.
Though Good-Deeds is present in Everyman’s life, he is extremely weakened by his deceptive and evil associates. However, Good-Deeds is willing to accompany Everyman in his journey with Death provided that Everyman seeks that assistance of knowledge. Knowledge guides Everyman to Confession, Discretion, Strength, Beauty, and Fie-Wits. They aid Everyman to strengthen the weak Good-Deeds for the journey to Everyman’s reckoning.
However, while these are considered to be the best companions in Everyman’s life, they cannot accompany him since they have no use of him when death is taking him. As such, his only companion is Good-Deeds, who will speak on his behalf and present his case to the Almighty God.
The author carefully weaves biblical teaching in the play to illustrate the consequences of Everyman’s actions with respect to his way of life and obedience to God’s commands. The Bible states categorically, “the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life” (Romans 6:12, King James Version Online). This verse concurs with the play’s primary theme of God’s reckoning of Everyman’s actions for judgment.
It is evident that Everyman is a sinful man, who has disobeyed and forgotten God; as a result, God sends Death to take Everyman to his judgment. Biblical teachings assert that through accepting God, every man becomes wise and full of knowledge. Therefore, every man must confess his sins, consequently gaining strength and beauty before God.
Through knowledge and the use of five wits, every man is capable of exercising discretion, hence making his path to righteousness clear. Through sending Death to Everyman, God gave him an opportunity to find salvation through the realization that Fellowship, Kindred, and Good are merely earthly companions that should not be allowed to mislead any man from his true path.
Therefore, through the process of searching for a companion for his reckoning journey, Everyman discovers the “light” to his dark life. Consequently, he finds his salvation: “For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live” (Romans 8:13, King James Version Online). In the process of Everyman’s journey with Death, he realizes that “in the presence of personification of his mortality he has misunderstood the significance of most aspect of his daily existence.” (Paulson, 2007). In this process of transition, Everyman begins to turn to God avoiding vain daily life.
The author carried a tremendous message about God, men, and Death. Death is introduced into the play with the tremendous impact by showing reverence to God and fulfilling the mission that God has given him. Meanwhile, Death serves as a reminder of Everyman’s purpose and ability to change towards a Godly life unencumbered by worldly temptations.
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