Dance of Death

The cast of "Hamlet" conclude the final performance of the 2000 season at London's reconstructed Globe Theatre with a traditional Dance of Death, each dancer bearing a death's head. Note the "minstrel band" in the gallery above the stage.

Although best known from the drawings of Holbein, the Dance of Death appeared in the fourteenth century as poetic dialogues apparently intended for dramatic performance – akin to a morality play; arising out of a society devastated by plague, the aim was to remind the audience of their mortality. Lydgate's version in the first half of the fifteenth century indicates that this kind of drama had arrived in England by that time, if not earlier. Only at a later period was music introduced and did the characters come to move in a dance-like fashion.

Dance of Death Dance of Death

Photos © S. Alsford

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