"The Sandbox" and "Everyman" Essay
The Nature of Death in The Sandbox and Everyman: Similarities and Differences This paper, by analyzing the main themes and characters in Everyman and The Sandbox, explores how the issue of death is perceived in each of these plays.
The Sandbox was an occasional play, a cynical, grotesque one, requested by the organizers of the Experimental Theater Festival in Spoleto (Green, 2-3). At times, Albee has commented that this play is one of the best of his work, almost faultless in its entirety of only fourteen minutes.
Grandma’s dying, as a symbol of strength and eternity represented through death, calls forth numerous associations from world literature. The subtext of this play can be found more readily earlier plays such as Everyman than in the plays written by Albee’s contemporaries. Mom and Dad’s pleasantries remind readers more of the futility and earthly matters than of any subtle matters embodied in the theatre works of 1960’s. This motif of conscious dying, though to a lesser extent, will return in a number of Albee’s later plays.
The Sandbox and Everyman are important not only for their usefulness in pointing out connection between life and death but as plays that help readers to reestablish the ancient European philosophical drama. The Sandbox makes the universe seem a place of absurd, whereas Everyman offers an extensive analysis of how absurd existence may become if real values are exchanged for pseudo ones. Both plays can be appreciated within the framework of the death portrayal, but individual approaches must be worked out. The message is motivated by values related to humanism; any theatrical production is motivated by the tragicomic rituals.
The problems evoked in The Sandbox may be close to those in Everyman, but in this play they have to do with the individuals who are not in the mainstream. The intellectuals are especially likely to show the signs of different treatment. Albee only slightly takes sides in this eternal quarrel. His primary aim is to show confrontation. The responses and sympathies of any given audience may change in accordance with generational inclination, but one thing is certain: wavering is provided, give or take whatever one likes (Barnet, 146-147).
The theme of death, combined with Albee’s analysis of the family, is very well represented in The Sandbox. The play presents issues of human cruelty supplemented by the death scene, when the grandmother is deposited in the sand to die by her mean, sarcastic daughter and son-in-law. The grandmother rebels against the vile treatment she receives at the hands of her family but accepts gracefully and graciously the ministrations of the angel of death, represented by a handsome young man. The difficulty of the situation is made memorable and emotionally realistic by the grandmother’s mixture of sarcasm and grief. In the end, the grandmother’s connection is with death, which means that she has accepted her life, even the fact of her family’s cruelty.
Most important, the angel of death is presented as almost a savior who comes to help those in need: a handsome young man whom the grandmother enlists to help her escape her family’s plan to get rid of her (Green, 2-3). The irony of the play is that the whole idea of escaping through death denies the life as such, which is supposed to be the sole purpose of everyone who came into this world.
Everyman (1495) is one of the most famous English morality plays, where the drama focuses on the coming of Death to an unprepared Everyman. Poetic in its language, and spare in its stage action, Everyman is widely read today and has proved highly effective in its numerous stage revivals. Most scholars believe that Everyman is a direct translation of the Dutch play Elckerlijc, rather than an original play in its own right--a circumstance which connects this drama to the rhetorical traditions of the Dutch Rederijker theatre, and helps to account for its unique qualities, among English moralities, of classical restraint and formality (Sellin, 64).
In the medieval times, allegorical stage plays were called moralities, a name that seems to guarantee that they did not miss their intended effect. Everyman is an allegory of man in the abstract; the other dramatis characters are Fellowship, Kinship, Property, Good Works, Contrition, Confession, Wisdom, Strength, Beauty, The Five Senses, and two far greater ones whose appearance in the opening scene sets the play into motion and gives it perennial significance: God the Father and Death (Sellin, 67).
The play opens, in imitation perhaps of the Book of Job, with a scene in heaven. God is heard, and was seen on the stage maybe, lamenting the depravity of His creatures on earth, who adore riches rather than Him who died for their sake. He calls for Death and commands him to go down to earth and summon Everyman before God’s judgment seat to give an accounting. Everyman, who is well dressed when Death accosts him, tries to obtain a respite by offering Death a bribe, but when Death cannot be tempted, Everyman asks, “May I come back again when I have shown my reckoning?” “Nevermore.” "May not someone go with me for company’s sake?” “If you can find one brave enough to go with you, he certainly may.” (Ryan, 729-733)
So Everyman sets out on a quest for a willing fellow pilgrim. Fellowship is the first to be appealed to. “Don’t despair,” he tells Everyman, “I would go with you were it to hell.” (Ryan, 732) But when it dawns upon him that he is invited on a journey from which there is no return, he hastily backs out. Kinship is equally rich with protestations of loyalty and just as unwilling to come along when he realizes what is expected from him. Then Everyman turns to Property, who answers with a sneer, “Did you think I would follow you beyond the world? I tell you flat, I won’t.”
Then he summons himself before Good Works. But Good Works is too weak to stand on his feet. “Are you so sick?” asks Everyman. “And you the cause of it. If you had satisfied my need, I would have cleared your reckoning, which now is blotted to your undoing.” (Ryan, 729-733) However, Good Works is in the mood to help him. He has a sister called Contrition. “She will guide you and show you in what frame of mind to go to this accounting.” Contrition takes him to Confession. “She is pure like a mountain rill; she will purge you.”
Through Confession, Good Works is restored to health. Good Works gives Everyman the robe of Remorse to wear and orders Wisdom, Strength, Beauty, and The Five Senses to stay by Everyman and give him advice and support. In their presence he makes his last will and testament, giving half his goods to the poor and the other half to the place where it is due to go (Sellin, 63). Then Contrition sends him to the priest for the extreme action, and when he returns they accompany him to the open grave. There Beauty, Strength, Wisdom, and The Five Senses all leave him at the eleventh hour. Even Contrition will not go with him all the way. He stays behind on the edge of the grave and speaks the final word.
Everyman’s adaptation to the stage was a master stroke. The play scored an immediate success. The many translations that were made of it in the sixteenth century testify to its continuous popularity. There is one in English, which was long regarded as the original play; but modern scholarship has proved convincingly that the Dutch text is the prior version (Sellin, 64-67). All drama in Western Europe is supposed to have sprung from the liturgy of the Church, which, in, turn closely dealt with the issue of death. In Dutch literature the earliest plays existing are of a character portraying death as something inevitable and sacred. Yet, this does not, of course, prove that in the Netherlands the development of the issue of death in drama was any different than in other places of the world. Unfortunately, no mystery plays of early date have been preserved, so that the beginnings of Dutch dramatic literature are hidden in obscurity.
Readers know more about the secular drama, thanks to the preservation of a Brussels manuscript containing four serious plays of a romantic cast and six coarse farces. One play of the former group was always followed by a farce; the two together made up a complete performance. Each mirrors on the stage an aspect of life, one its romance, the other its realism. Love guides the destinies of prince and gentle lady in the romantic play. The woe that is in marriage is never the woe of the lady and her prince. The couple who fall out in the farce belong to a lowly station in life. The romantic play is courtly and borrows its plot from fairy tales and romances of chivalry. In such a world where all is well because all ends well (ironically, with death), coincidence is not a fortune but an essential part of the simple scheme. The invocation to God with which each play opens implies that divine providence controls the destinies of the life and, ultimately, death.