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Characters in Death view their lives in retrospect and, very often, for these characters hindsight is twenty twenty. This statement holds true for any incidence of retrospect, however. When an event has passed you take yourself out of that situation emotionally and therefore lose the emotion-controlling factor which can cloud one's perspective. Assuming an after-life does exist, one may argue that the perspective you get on your life is clear because you are no longer concerned with your human emotions. This also assumes that personal enlightenment is the issue, and no divine enlightenment intervenes. Chaucer's Palinode to Troilus and Criseyde does depict Troilus as being instilled with divine enlightenment, however, and one wonders if Troilus's epiphany manifests due to divine intervention, or merely because he is now emotionally separated from his situation.
In Beowulf, the protagonist represents the perfect hero. Beowulf does everything in his power to uphold this image. He fights the three monsters for his own gratification. He traveled to another land because he was considered the only man on the planet capable of killing Grendel and he wanted to prove it. Beowulf managed himself in this manner past his prime and even then wanted to prove himself in a fight against a dragon. Although he defeats the dragon, he also meets his own demise. His death is the first time that he met defeat in any form, even though he did defeat the dragon. This defeat is the first incident that would prompt Beowulf to reconsider the importance of upholding his image. At this point any change that he may consider is much too late, proving that death is a very cruel disciplinarian.
Shakespeare firmly believes that death is the great equalizer. In most of his plays at least one character realizes that after death he will become "food for worms." King and peasant, prince and pauper--no matter what your social status is you will eventually come to the same fate. Henry IV is no exception. Shakespeare's characters always reach the same conclusion about death, usually in a very sobering way. This allows his aristocratic characters to undergo a change of perspective and therefore detach themselves from the situation that they are considering.
In Milton's Paradise Lost, Adam and Eve experience a similar perspective change after The Fall. When the serpent leads Eve to eat from the Tree of Knowledge, she is both tempted and curious as to what she is missing.
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"Death in Beowulf, Henry IV, and Paradise Lost." 123HelpMe.com. 20 Aug 2018
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