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Some good deeds are punished

Anonymous, ''Everyman'' -- Jerz: EL150 (Intro to Literary Study)

"Take example, all ye that do hear or see,
How they that I loved best do forsake me,
Except my Good-Deeds that bideth truly."

When I first read Bethany's blog, I agreed with Dr. Jerz that Everyman wasn't really getting punished for his good deeds. The phrase "no good deed goes unpunished" is normally attributed to Clare Boothe Luce, a writer and politician well known for her sardonic, cynical humor. In its original context, I think the phrase meant that no matter how good your intentions are in your actions, nothing good will come back to you. This seems like the exact opposite of the message of Everyman, since Good Deeds is the only character who can truly help Everyman get to heaven.
However, then I considered the context in which Bethany mentioned this phrase, in the musical Wicked. Elphaba says, "Was I really seeking good? Or just seeking attention?" Her actions in the play, while seeming to be of good intent, cannot automatically be branded "good deeds." They are good deeds from her perspective because she is fighting against a person she thinks is an evil tyrant. However, it is not obvious how things will be better if the Wizard is overthrown. So it is valid for her to ask if her so-called "good deeds" are not a cry for attention and therefore are inherently self-serving. In this way, her "good deeds" could be punished if they are tainted by selfishness. This is an interesting concept to think about. Are our good deeds enough for us to get into heaven if they are being done for reasons outside of wanting to help others? If we simply want to be seen as a good person but do not care about the cause we are helping, does that count? I think we touched on this a little in class when Dr. Jerz brought up the idea that giving money to the church could just be "buying your way into heaven." While "no good deed goes unpunished" does not seem to apply to Everyman in the context used by Clare Booth Luce, it might apply in the context used in Wicked. Everyman can't enter heaven with only Good Deeds; he has to go to Confession first. He has to truly be sorry for his sins and not merely try to counterbalance them with good deeds that are done just for show. Like Elphaba, he can't have done good deeds out of merely "seeking attention." In that context, what might be termed "good deeds" would be punished. While I don't think Everyman the play discusses this issue in detail, I do think it's sort of implied with the mention of Confession, and it's an interesting issue to examine in greater detail.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on February 20, 2007 5:17 PM.

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