The Pardoner’s Tale and Everyman
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Everyman, The Pardoner’s Tale, and Death
The morality play Everyman and Chaucer’s The Pardoner’s Tale are examples of many works that used death as a subject. Each work, however, approached it in different ways. Everyman personified death and uses the character to educate the readers on the reasons why death comes to everyone. The Pardoner’s Tale used it as a symbol and a theme to support the Pardoner’s sermons about the sin of greed. Nevertheless, both works are clear in stressing the fact that death is inevitable and address the right ways to living. Death in Everyman is a character that acts as a messenger of God. It visits everyman and brings conviction to him. During the first part, God is talking about the purpose in the death of his creation. According to him, “Of ghostly sight the people be so blind,/Drowned in sin, they know me not for their God,/In wordly riches is all their mind,/They fear not my rightwiseness, the sharp rod.” (25-28) God then summoned Death to tell Everyman the news of reckoning.
Death replied, “Almighty God, I am here at your will/ Your commandment to fulfill.” (44-45) During their brief conversation, the reader learns that Death is under God’s control and it obeys His every command. Everyman also explains death by using different values and qualities found in a good human being, such as “Good Deeds”, “Knowledge”, and “Fellowship”. According to the play, the only things that everyman can take along in death are the good deeds he has done and values he has learned during his life. Good Deeds said, “Beauty, Strength, and Discretion do man forsake/Foolish friends and kinsmen that fair spake/All fleeth save Good Deeds, and that am I.” (439-441) Not only does it tell that death comes to everyone but also teaches the morals that man should have before his time on earth is over.
Whereas Everyman uses death as a character to explain the mortality of man, Chaucer’s The Pardoner’s Tale approaches death as a symbol; as something that justifies the actions of man. Throughout the story, the characters seem to have no idea what death is. Death is rather referred to as a character in the story. One example is when the publican tells the three rioters that death lives around the village and that he has killed many people there. (685-691) The three rioters then looks for him as if he were a real person that they can kill. The corpse in the first scene is a strong reminder that death comes to all and a direct symbol of unexpected death as he was “slain [that night]./For dronke as he sat on his bench upright” (673-674), dead while partying that very night, in the prime of life. His life and his drinking end by Death. The Pardoner continues the theme of death by mentioning it in regards to the sin of greed. Even before they are destroyed this way, “he who lets such pleasures so entice / Is dead while he is living in such vice,” (547-548) meaning those that go to excess might as well be dead as long as they live that way.
The Pardoner’s Tale also used the gold that the rioters find under the oak tree as a direct symbol of death. Not only does the old man tell them specifically they would find Death under that tree (765), but it also symbolizes greed, which the Pardoner expresses is the mother of manslaughter in his sermon on gambling, which can be considered an extension on greed for money or gold. By portraying death as a theme, and symbolism the Pardoner strengthens his arguments made in his sermons on sin. Both works intend to instruct the readers about the inevitability of death. Both of them also tell about the right ways that people should live their lives. In The Pardoner’s Tale, death is portrayed as something that happens when man lives in sin like what happened to the corpse in the first part and the three rioters who indulged in the sin of greed.
Likewise in Everyman, death is represented as something of a consequence that happens if man betrays God. Man should have good deeds for it is what he gives during his life that will go with him when he dies and not those that he received during his life. Everyman and The Pardoner’s Tale are both medieval works that utilize death to teach about the morality of man. Everyman personified death while the latter used it as a symbolism. Both works used death as the core of their stories; death that has been a common subject of many works; an intense word that reflects a reality every human will one day have to realize.