Looking into Death: An Evolution through Time in England to 1800

Thanh Truc Truong


Death has long been a topic in concern of the entire humanity. Regardless of gender, nationality or time period, we all reach the same destination: death. However, the interpretation of death itself does not always stay the same, but radically evolves throughout history, as reflected in multiple literary works. This paper, therefore, will examine the evolution of death notions with special regards to England from the Middle Ages to the seventeenth century - from the time of persistent threat of the Black Plague to the modern colonial period. Exploring the death of the three rioters in “The Pardoner’s Tale” of Geoffrey Chaucer’s masterpiece Canterbury Tales (1387-1400) and the protagonist’s death in “Oroonoko” of Aphra Behn (1688), the paper will dissect each death to illustrate its relationship with the contemporary common belief. Following the indepth multi-dimensional analyses of other critical book and journals besides the primary texts, this research will also prove the shift from the Medieval romantic and religious mindset to the dominance of realism and humanistic world before the 1800s in England – a representative of Western civilization. Over time, we cease to perceive death as a destiny by the Plague, a necessary means to pay for sins and only granted by God, but witness the replacement of a totally different frame of mind, in which the colonists become “the Almighty” and death for justice disappears from scene.


Death, Middle Ages, Religion

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