Treatment and Perception of Death in “Everyman”

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Death is perceptible from community to community, but in the dying equation the common denominator is that death is sad and terrifying. People are born, they simply don't know when to die. Death is a mystery surrounded by a spiritual cocoon which is impenetrable by science, art or even the new technology. The nearest effort to clarify the end is the Bible, and so Everyman's play derives heavily from Christian doctrines. This play revolves around death and is associated with the quest to find the reason of life. It digs deep into the present day abstract thought of an afterlife and how one is able to attain eternity.

At the face of death lies judgment, the play is very categorical that dying brings in judgment and that all shall appear before God and account for all the bad and good deeds. This discussion will focus on how the author perceives demise and its treatment. Death comes in multiple personalities; the unknown author may have sought to portray end as inevitable, tragedy, a journey, a messenger, or the cause of aloneness and alienation. The author proposes the treatment or remedy for death through repentance and doing good deeds.

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  • Thesis statement

  • Introduction

  • Perception of death

  • Messenger

  • Inevitable

  • Journey

  • Tragedy

  • Cause of Aloneness and Alienation

  • Treatment of death 

  • Repentance

  • Good Deeds

  • Conclusion

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Perception of Death and the Treatment of Death in Everyman


Everyman is a classic morality play presumed to have been written during the 14th century. Authorship of the script is unknown, but historical scholars point out it might be a close translation of Elckerlijc, a Dutch play (Lowell, 2017). Despite its behindhand in time continuum, it still exudes incredible relevance to present-day Christian life. Composition has greatly utilized the style of allegory attempting to address how people ought to live to inherit the Kingdom of God. Using allegorical technique, the author describes how a death snatches a person and the only thing that one goes with into afterlife is good deeds. Material possession and other earthly belongings do not go past the grave. Using the main character called Everyman, author gives vivid explanation of Christian way of life. The play brings out the struggle, which people go through in attempt to strike balance between worldly things and afterlife spiritual judgment (Beadle, 2008). There is continuous conflict between spiritual enrichment, earthly pleasure and riches, and centrality of heaven and hell. The play underscores the fact that life is a transitory journey, and there is always a possibility to redeem oneself from evil to good, which is shown by Everyman’s travel from a sinner to ultimate reception in paradise. The purpose of this study is to discuss author’s perception of death and its treatment using Cawley’s 1956 version of Everyman.

Perception of Death


Death has been perceived as messenger, who God uses to call humans into judgment. It is corrective rather than punitive agent. At the beginning, Lord tells the audience he sends death is not for the purpose of slaying evil doers as in Herod and Castle case, but rather to make people accountable for their deeds. He uses it to call people into explaining what they did with lives he lent to them. God sends Death to communicate to Everyman that his days were over, and it was time to appear before judges (Cawley, 1956). The author, therefore, sees demise as instrument, which God uses to reach out to humanity (Adu-Gyamfi & Schmidt, 2011). As messenger, he reminds Everyman he had to pay for his deeds.


Everyman’s author has painted death as inevitable calling. Death is impossible to avoid and cannot be prevented in any way, means, or material possession. It takes anyone regardless of age, wealth, status, or distinctive classification. When it conveys the message to Everyman, he tries to bribe Death with wealth, so that it might spare him, but the latter devalues earthly possession. It informs that death is binding, conclusive, and incorruptible. When Everyman asks Death to give him one more day, it replies it could not wait, and he was to start the journey to take his book of count before God (Cawley, 1956). This perception resonates with Biblical insight that the hour and the day are unknown. Death does not give second chances and is unforgiving.

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The author has also conceptualized death as individual journey every person takes on in the end. It is a travel, which one has to undertake solely, not even friends or material possessions can be carried along. It is transitory journey that transforms mortal bodies into immortals for the afterlife, which can either be in heaven or hell. Everyman knows it is perilous road with no return, and it is why he goes looking for people he thought would accompany him. He approaches Kindred and Cousin asking them to go with him, but when they realize his destination, they turn down his request (Cawley, 1956). Their reaction can be interpreted as testament that death is scary dreaded journey.

He reaches out to Knowledge, who advises him to repent as repentance prepared him for Heaven. Everyman goes to Confession, who leads him in denouncing his sins; he punishes himself with a scourge. Thus, his pilgrimage to afterlife leads him to heaven, where Angels welcome him. He is forgiven, and his deeds become strong and finally earn him an eternity in paradise. Death is, therefore, a journey defined by morals (Sebastian, 2017).


Death is perceived as tragedy, which no man wants to encounter or be associated with. It is terrifying, and no one is ready for it. This perception of dying is brought about by the initial reaction of Everyman after he was told that his time was due. He becomes distressed upon receiving the information knowing that demise would rob him off the pleasures of the world. Everyman has a good life full of pleasure and great company from friends, and when death comes around, he is thunderstruck and full of sorrow. He even attempts to bribe it to add him more time; however, death reminds him that it is inevitable, and no one can make delay (Cawley, 1956). His friends, who are a personification of his qualities, are also scared of death. He approaches Fellowship, Cousin, Kindred, and Goods renounce their promise to accompany him. At first, he comes to Fellowship hesitating to reveal his grief; after assurances from Fellowship to stand with him in every situation, he breaks the apprehensive news of his summon; on hearing  it, Fellowship turns its back on Everyman. His friends cannot save him from the austere reality.

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Cause of Aloneness and Alienation

Death alienates Everyman from his close friends and family. It is perceived as such since no one wants to be associated with it. It alienates the bound from friends and family.  Everyman is left alone to face death after his allies deserted him. His close people refuse to accompany him in the dreaded journey, as they are sacred. As a cause of alienation, death distances Everyman from his milieu; they betray Everyman, when they renounce their support to accompany him (Cawley, 1956). Their actions breed alienation. Everyman feels like he needs an acquaintance to stand with him throughout the journey, but he ends up alone with his deeds, he realizes that the journey is an individual one and everyone has to give his own account to the throne. He has to face judgment on his own.  

Treatment of Death


Despite the inevitability of death, the reprieve is brought by the treatment remedies which have been highlighted by the author (Davidson, Walsh & Ton, 2007). The playwright denotes genuine repentance as treatment of death. It gives a man chance to make his/her ways right before God. When one atones, his sins are erased, and he/she becomes righteous and blameless before the Lord. This treatment underscores the Christian belief of confessing sins through unpretentious repentance. Christian doctrines emphasize on the institutionalization of confession, through which souls are saved from damnation and everlasting condemnation. In the play, Good Deeds advices her sister Knowledge to take Everyman to Confession to seek forgiveness and atonement for his transgression. Everyman confesses his sins and punishes himself with a scourge as a sign of true repentance. Confession then tells him that his sins had been forgiven (Cawley, 1956). It gives strength to his good deeds. It prepares him for the journey of death, and when he dies, he is received by Angels in heaven. Death is unstoppable, but does have treatment, which is setting paths straight to prepare for eternity.

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Good Deeds

This analysis drew attention to Good Deeds, which in the end accompanied Everyman to the grave. It was the sole and eventual companion that went with Everyman to heaven. Good Deeds is portrayed as a character. Closer scrutiny demystifies Good Deeds and de-personifies it as literary day-to-day actions.

Doing good things from a Christian point of view is the gateway to salvation. Although there is debatable ambiguity in the book of Romans 11: 6, which says that man is not saved by his deeds, but by the grace, it is overridden by numerous emphasis on acting virtunously, which are scattered throughout the Bible (The Holy Bible, 2014). Righteous living is a prerogative of every man, since judgment will be based on one’s deeds. When Everyman becomes aware of inescapability from death, he decides to turn his ways from enjoying earthly pleasure. It is good deeds that make him worthy of the Kingdom of God.


Everyman written over eight centuries ago still poses relevance to Christians today. Death has been perceived from the Biblical perspective. It brings up in the issue of eternity which resonates throughout the play. The author perceives dying through various angles. The perception and treatment of death emphasizes that every person is responsible for one’s actions and should make good deeds to conquer it. Everyman concludes that for one to attain eternal life, s/he first must be saved through doing good deeds and repentance. Atonement for sins is portrayed as an external option to attain eternity in paradise. Death is seen as punishment, while eternal life is a reprieve for those, who do good things. Finally, the play concludes that eternity is dependent on actions, and judgment will be based on what one’s deeds in life.

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Adu-Gyamfi, Y., Schmidt, M. R. (2011). Literature and spirituality. Boston: Longman.

Beadle, R. (2008). The Cambridge companion to medieval English theatre. New York: Cambridge University.

Cawley, A. C. (Ed.). (1956). Everyman and medieval miracle plays. New York: Dutton. 

Davidson C., Walsh M. & Ton J. (2007) Everyman and its Dutch original. Robbins Library Digital Projects, University of Rochester.

Lowell, A. M. (2017). The play about common trade and play about empty purse: Cornelis Everaerts’s prequels to Elckerlijc/Everyman? Retrieved on September 29, 2017 from 

Sebastian, J. T. (2017) Morality plays. The Encyclopedia of Medieval Literature in Britain. 1-6. Retrieved on September 29, 2017 from 

The Holy Bible. (2014). New international version. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House

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