April 4, 2013

Death And The Lady

Young woman meets Death; offers him rich gifts if he will grant her more time in this world - in some versions, she wishes to mend her ways after a life of wickedness. He refuses. She dies.

The Dance of Death (conversations between Death and his protesting victims) was a popular theme throughout the 14th and 15th centuries; and again in the 18th century.

"In the Middle Ages, the Dance of Death and dialogues between Death and his victims used to be enacted as a stage morality. Later, the theme was taken up by artists as great as Holbein and as humble as the chapbook illustrators. Miss Anne Gilchrist has noted (Journal of the English Folk Dance and Song Society, vol.IV, pp.37-8) that "in English balladry the favourite aspect of the subject was Death in its relation to radiant beauty and lusty and careless youth." The ballad, perhaps of late 16th. century origin, was originally in dialogue-form and it may well have been at once sung and acted. Traditional versions have been noted from Devon (Songs of the West, Sabine Baring Gould & others, 1905, pp.202-3), Somerset (Folk Songs from Somerset, Cecil Sharp 1904-9, vol.IV p.4), Wiltshire (Folk Songs of the Upper Thames, Alfred Williams, 1923, p.173) and Sussex (English Traditional Songs and Carols, Lucy Broadwood, 1908, p.40)." - From the notes to the Penguin Book (1959)

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