Life and Death Themes in the Sandbox and Everyman

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Research Paper – Life and Death Themes in The Sandbox and Everyman

COURSE # ENGL-102_D22_200940

COURSE TITLE: English 102

SEMESTER OF ENROLLMENT: D Fall 2009

NAME Glen MacDonald

Glen MacDonald
Professor Smith
English 102
December 5, 2009
Research Paper – Life and Death Themes in The Sandbox and Everyman This paper explores the perception and treatment of death at points in history some 500 years apart by using two dramatic plays as a portal into their respective time periods. The anonymously written 15th century play Everyman and the 1959 Edward Albee play, The Sandbox provide two extreme points of contrast to demonstrate the significant changes and similarities in man’s living conditions and his perceptions and treatment of death. An overview of life in medieval England about the year 1500, and life in America in 1959 is provided up front to establish the realities of the time period in which to review each play. Both plays will be examined by referencing research regarding their respective authors, the works themselves and by incorporating other materials that provide insight into their significance and meanings. The paper will conclude by providing a summary of insights and points of interest regarding the perception and treatment of death during both eras. Life in 16th century medieval England was considerably different than American life in 1959. In addition to the substantial difference in day to day living conditions, such as a roof over ones head or heat and light, life in medieval England was brutal by today’s standards. Many aspects of daily existence that we take for granted in modern American cities such as sanitation, nutrition and medical care were mostly non-existent in a medieval English city. The limited availability of health and basic services, contributed to high rates of disease which reduced the average life expectancy to approximately 40 years old. According to Carolyn Freeman Travers, a Research Manager with Plimoth Plantation, the rate of infant mortality and death from childhood disease was much higher during that time period than it was in 1959 (1). Travers points out that many people did live to be older than the 40 year average, but it was only if they survived childbirth and then navigated the disease prone childhood years to make it to adulthood (1). By comparison, life in America in the late 1950’s was much easier, as is reflected by the life expectancy statistics. According to the U.S. Department of Health’s, Life Tables for 1959, the average life expectancy in the United States in 1959 was approximately 70 years of age (76). This 30 year or so difference in life expectancy, although significant on its own, when combined with the medieval childhood death statistics and the fact that death most often occurred within one’s home, the average medieval adult would have likely had a great deal of personal experience with death, likely within their own families. This is not the case in 1959 America where death often happened in a hospital setting or where the mature funeral business quickly whisked a body away from the home setting. Another interesting reference point for the two time periods is religion, and the level and significance of participation in organized religion. According to Chris Trueman, a British history teacher religious participation has changed dramatically during the past 500 years. The Medieval Church played a far greater role in Medieval England than the Church does today. In Medieval England, the Church dominated everybody's life. All Medieval people - be they village peasants or towns people - believed that God, Heaven and Hell all existed. From the very earliest of ages, the people were taught that the only way they could get to Heaven was if the Roman Catholic Church let them. Everybody would have been terrified of Hell and the people would have been told of the sheer horrors...
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