Everyman

Everyman by Anonymous. The first known performance is recorded in 1510.

You can read this play in its entirety, at this link.

“You can’t take it with you”. We’ve all heard this saying, and we all know what it means. A close corollary is similar:  “No man laments on his death bed: ‘I wish I’d spent more time at work’.”

These themes are expressed in the short play Everyman, written by an anonymous author during the medieval period. You may recall that our children are studying medieval literature this year, and this most recent offering from their literary adventures is highly compelling. They’ve also read The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood, as well as King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table, which I may review at a later date.

Everyman outlines the journey that well, every man, must travel. To be born is to begin our sojourn toward the end of life. This might happen at a ripe old age, the best case scenario, or it could occur earlier. Whatever the day, it nearly always arrives at a most inopportune time.

When death comes to notify Everyman that his time is up, and that his end is imminent, he is understandably shaken. In his distress he implores death to give him more time, but is denied. The language is not modern, but flows more easily once you get the rhythm of it:

DEATH:

But to the heart suddenly I shall smite

Without any advisement.

And now out of thy sight I will me hie;

See thou make thee ready shortly,

For thou mayest say, this is the day

That no man living may escape away.

Once Everyman accepts the inevitability of his fate, he begins to take inventory. He wonders if he can take his possessions with him. Death makes it clear that his things were only loaned to him for this life. They are not his to take to the next life. At this point, all the elements of his life and humanity enter the picture. Fellowship, represented by his friends and acquaintances come first. They offer him whatever he needs, up to and including assisting in the darkest of deeds. So he asks them to come with him, but of course, Fellowship denies his request.

 

FELLOWSHIP

Now, in good faith, I will not that way;

But, if thou will murder, or any man kill,

In that I will help thee with a good will.

EVERYMAN

Oh, that is a simple advice indeed:

Gentle Fellowship, help me in my necessity;

We have loved long, and now I need,

And now, gentle Fellowship, remember me.

FELLOWSHIP

Whether ye have loved me or no,

By Saint John, I will not with thee go.

 

Everyman then encounters and entreats all of the elements of his life: Kindred, Strength, Knowledge, Beauty, Goods, and Wits. None can accompany him to what is next, save one thing. His good deeds make themselves known as well, and hold slightly more power than the rest of the elements of his life.

This is without question a “big C Catholic” play, but it its message is both universal and powerful. It’s a quick read, worth the 45 minutes. It is good for us to be reminded of the temporary nature of this world we so heavily invest in. Today more than any other, the urgency of this balanced view of life looms large. No one has lamented on her death bed, “I wish I’d cared more about political shenanigans”.

Take some time and give it a read. Whether you are religious or not, it speaks to the universality of our fragile existence and our ultimate lack of control over it all.

 

 

 

Quotable Literary Quotes: Booker T. Washington

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I’ve been ruminating on the work, life and philosophy of Booker T. Washington ever since I posted this Jason Whitlock video as my last Friday Fave. To that end, I thought it would be good to begin the week with some of the most profound quotes from his autobiography, Up From Slavery.

His thoughts on education:

“Education is not a thing apart from life—not a “system,” nor a philosophy; it is direct teaching how to live and how to work.”
 
This shouldn’t be novel, but it feels like it in this current zeitgeist. More:
 
“The ambition to secure an education was most praiseworthy and encouraging. The idea, however, was too prevalent that, as soon as one secured a little education, in some unexplainable way he would be free from most of the hardships of the world, and, at any rate, could live without manual labour.”
 
I loved that, because it speaks well to our current situation, where education is not a means of personal development in life or training in productive citizenship, but as a way to get out of having to work hard. Shame on us for propagating a hatred of hard work!
 
I recognize that in a cognitive economy, manual labor is prohibitive as a means of making a living. However, that’s a different matter from raising an entire generation of people who are unwilling to engage in manual labor, both due to lack of skill as well as on principle.
 
On the subject of the role and limitations of government:
 
“Among a large class, there seemed to be a dependence upon the government for every conceivable thing. The members of this class had little ambition to create a position for themselves, but wanted the federal officials to create one for them.”
 
He offers an alternative solution:
 
“How many times I wished then and have often wished since, that by some power of magic, I might remove the great bulk of these people into the country districts and plant them upon the soil – upon the solid and never deceptive foundation of Mother Nature, where all nations and races that have ever succeeded have gotten their start – a start that at first may be slow and toilsome, but one that nevertheless is real.”
 
Washington again points out the place which is a truly level playing field, in the real world, in the dirt, working hard. More:
 
“I have begun everything with the idea that I could succeed, and I never had much patience with the multitudes of people who are always ready to explain why one cannot succeed.”
 
So much for victimhood, but when you read Up From Slavery, it becomes painfully apparent why Booker T. Washington is held in low regard by many progressives. Despite the amazing work he did with the newly freed slaves and the exceptional accomplishments he achieved The Tuskegee Institute, his failure to fully embrace a narrative which denied the God-given agency of black Americans still relegates him to the fringes of the historical black American record. And that’s too bad.
 
Hope this provided food for thought.
 
Happy Monday, all!