Theme of Death in The Summoning of Everyman
Death is sudden, certain, universal and private; yet it is not to be feared, because with good deeds, it is never the end of life, but only the continuation of it from one form to another.
In the morality play The Summoning of Everyman, simply referred to as Everyman, the author makes his perception about death known. In the true allegory style, the author employs characters that are representative of their direct equivalents in real life. From Death, we learn of what the author actually thinks about death the real world. The aim of this paper is to explore the perception of death and the treatment of it in Everyman. From the play, we learn that death is sudden, certain, universal and private; yet it is not to be feared, because with good deeds, it is never the end of life, but only the continuation of it from one form to another.
When Death arrives at Everyman’s door, he is simply not ready to go yet. But Death informs him that it was time to face judgment, and that the time for reckoning had come. Still, Everyman pleads for more time, but Death denies him, allowing him only once thing: that he may choose a companion to travel the journey with. With Death, the author reveals a key perspective about death: it is always sudden. When it comes, it strikes with speed and suddenness (Paulson 129). No one is ever ready to die, not even the old, not even those that have been ailing for long. The reality is that death will always surprise when it arrives. It commands us to order, reminding of the fragility and temporary nature of life. No amount of pleading will dissuade death not to take us, and that we will be unprepared will not be death’s problem.
Death is not only sudden, it is also certain. Just as people were born, they will die. This is something that they must always be aware of. There is an aspect of it that is even more intriguing, even if only for its fairness: death is universal in that it will visit every man and woman (Borgstorm and Ellis 93). None will be spared. Certainty and universality are key perspectives in Everyman. As a matter of fact, the author shares these perspectives right at the beginning with the following words: “here begins a treatise how the high Father of Heaven sends Death to summon every creature to come and give account of their lives in this world” (Anonymous 1). In as early as 1510, the author wanted these perspectives known. We will die someday. This may be sad, but there is another important truth too: all other people will die too. Death is thus a great equalizer in that it visits all, with certainly and suddenness. We will all comfort and will be comforted, because we will lose and be lost. Death is the end of everyman, just as it came upon Everyman in Everyman. It is thus better to be prepared when it comes, because it certainly will. Acceptance of this reality makes life better and more enjoyable, because we are able to appreciate its seasonality.
Death will come upon all, but no one must be fooled into thinking that it can be felt by crowds. When all said and done, death will always be a private affair. While dying, participants will die as individuals. Those that will be left behind will also feel the loss as individuals. That is why death is never the business of crowds or groups. When it strikes, it is felt at individual level, always. Not even those that are the dearest of friends can help in the journey of death (Momeyer 305). While embarking on the journey of life, Everyman reaches out to his friends. Fellowship has vowed that he would go everywhere with him, but suddenly changes his mind when he learn on the nature of his visit. Kindred refuses to accompany Everyman too. Cousin gives a perfect reason why no one would really accompany Everyman: they too have their own accounts to write. It was thus not a journey that they could walk with him. Some friends like Knowledge were willing to accompany him all the way, but they faced limitations in that they could not go beyond the physical realm of life, meaning that they were limited by the natures of being. Everyman’s lonely journey represents the reality of every man and woman: we will all die alone (Goldhamer 90). Given the choice, friends will simply not wish to die with us. Second, even if they were willing to, there is only so far that they can go – just as Knowledge would only go so far with Everyman. In the end, death will always be faced privately and individually. No amount of love from those that adore us will save us from this reality that the creator has in store for us. No mother will die for their child, no matter how much they would want to, because, by its nature, death is not for groups but individuals.
That death is sudden, certain and lonely are certainly terrifying things that have the ability to scare every human being. But the author hints that these things should neither scare nor terrify one for three main reasons. The remaining part of the paper will explain them, because they reveal the author’s treatment of death in Everyman. To begin with, in a subtle way, the author hints of the folly of worrying about things that will certainly come. Death will come, and it will take us all (Kaula 11). Therefore, it is pointless to worry about that fact. Rather, the objective should be to spend time living a good life, one characterized by good deeds. This should be the business of every individual, as they await the journey of death. The worry that Everyman demonstrated when death came knocking was uncalled for. It was both necessary and ineffective. Human beings must not wait to negotiate with death, pleading for more time.
There is a second reason why individuals should embrace death: with good deeds, death will only see them enter a good place. We must therefore treat death as a way through which our good deeds will be judged. In this way, death becomes like an examination that gives us the opportunity to showcase our mastery of a coveted subject. Not all have done good deeds. This necessarily places those that have in a coveted position, one that is the envy of all and sundry. Without death, people cannot possibly be judged, meaning that they do not get the opportunity to showcase good deeds (Paulson 134). However, death gives then the opportunity to. It is an opportunity that is to be seized, when it presents itself. They who do not die cannot be judged; meaning that their worth cannot be established. Besides, good deeds offer immunity from death, because those that have then end up in a good place. After confessing to his sins, Everyman marches towards the last part of his journey with Good Deeds. He is confident even as he climbs to his grave. He dies and ascends to heaven, with Good Deeds beside him, and they are welcomed by an Angel. Everyman ended up in a good place, because of the deeds he had done. Death must be treated as the avenue to have one’s good deeds weighed. The objective is to have many of them that enable one to win favor with God.
The end of one thing only marks the beginning of another. Death marks the end of life on earth. However, it does not mean the end of life everywhere. On earth, life is one of transformation, from being born to dying. It is a journey that ends with death, at least as far as life on earth is concerned. However – as Everyman found out as he was being welcomed by angels – it is never over with life when one has good deeds by their side. In heaven, Everyman began another life. While we should not speculate on the nature of that life, it is no secret that it was different from the one that Everyman lived on earth with friends like Fellowship and Kindred. With Everyman’s ascension, the author has a simple message: death is to be seen as a transformation from one form to another, from the physical to the spiritual (Goldhamer 94). When the time comes, we must not fear it. We must not imagine of those that we will leave behind. Rather, the excitement should be about the new company that awaits travellers in the realm of the spiritual. This is how death is to be treated. Needless to say, those that are not particularly spiritual will not find these view convincing. Still, it is one that Everyman’s author was careful to hint broadly, an understandable perspective given that the play is morality one.
Death is a feared subject. In many cultures, even the mere mention of it may invite rebuke, as one will be seen as bringing a troubling conversation. There are good reasons why people fear it. When it comes, it is sudden and shocking. Not even the most prepared will be ready. But there are things about it that should bring comfort, even if only because there is strength in numbers: death has a universal and nondiscrimination policy in that it visits all. None will be spared the grip of its fangs. However, even with these realities, death must not be feared, as is the case with many people today. With good deeds, death marks entry into a place of eternal peace where one will be welcomed by angles. It marks the transformation of a life from the physical to the spiritual. Death is good, because it marks the beginning of a life unseen.
The objective in life should thus be simple: to increase the stock of good deeds and seek repentance for wrongs committed to fellow human beings. If we do this, we may just end up being embraced by the angels, just as was the case for Everyman in Everyman.
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