The late medieval period, beginning with the advent of the black plague in the mid-14th century, saw the rise of widespread fascination with death, notably manifest in the arts. Authors such as Johannes von Tepl in Germany wrote dialogues between the ploughman and death about god and the justice of dying, while Decameron of the Italian Boccaccio is set against the background of a group trying to escape the disease of the city.

Attitudes towards the omnipresent death varied, but in general he was seen as the great leveller of social inequality, the final messenger of god, and the hand of fortune. Images of the hooded death with Scythe arose as well, as the reaper of the divine harvest, whose swing gathered all to their final reward.

The Danse Macabre, the Totentanz, was an artistic and dramatic response. Originating perhaps in the final convulsions of the dying, the souls were seen to rise from their graves, guided by the skeletal hand of death, and dance in the deep of night across the hills and forests, on their way to their final reward; this procession was re-enacted in plays, woodcuts, as well as stained glass in cathedrals.

The imagery tended to die down and resurface in times of plague. Later, the concept was brought to the fore again in the 19th century by poets such as Baudelaire andGoethe:

The watcher looks down in the deep of the night
On the graves of the dead from his tower;
The moon shines down on the churchyard, bright
with the glow of the heavenly power.
A lone grave stirs, and a second one then,
They rise from their rest, both woman and man,
In ghostly pale fetters and tatters.

-Totentanz, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

There is a great scene playing on this theme at the ending of Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal.

When dancing in a disco, rave joint or other safe haven for illicit drug use it is very important that you put anyone who is unconscious, asleep or merely dancing on the inside into the recovery position (ask someone who's taken first aid to explain). This greatly increases the probability of them waking alive the next morning. It has the following effects:
  • Renders them unable to stand up quickly. This is important because those in drug induced sleep usually don't stand up for very long if they stand up quickly.
  • Allows gravity to clear vomit out of the airway.
  • Suggests to medics that someone with at least one clue has already seen to this individual.
It has been suggested that you call an ambulance for unconscious dancers. This, however, leads very quickly to questions such as ``what did she take?,'' ``what's her name?'' and the dreaded ``young man, could i ask you some questions?'' to which there are very few effective answers that don't make you look like (a) a sleaze, (b) a liar trying to cover you butt, (c) someone trying to cause trouble for the venue or (d) all of the above. The other problem with the ambulance option is that there's almost nothing that can be done for someone who's taken a large dose of unknown illegal drugs.

Dance safe, help everyone wake up alive the next morning, prevent the dance of death.

Tragicomic play written in 1900 by the Swedish playwright August Strindberg. It concerns a long-married couple and the games they play with each other, the love and hate that such long confinement/love naturally brings. What follows is an account I saw of a performanc of the play.

Its 7:45. My father and I are in a theater, waiting to see a production of August Strindberg's "Dance of Death" , starring Helen Mirren and Sir Ian McKellan. We're dressed in our nicest clothes, and I'm anticipating a night of serious THEATER. It feels slightly like a duty to both myself and my former-actor father, coming with him like this (though i suggested it), but I'm sure I'll have a grand old time. It is 15 minutes until the show starts, but we can see the set.

It is a tower, gray. There is a writing desk and a bed, and there is a sense that it is preserved, dead. There are things everywhere, little details, bottles, letters, opulent couches. Windows are closed, and behind them there is the illusion of fog. Wind howls from hidden speakers.
Dad turns to me. I steel myself for some penetrating incite that rips away all my pseudo-intellectual pretensions (I hold my father in high esteem), or at the very least another anecdote about his days studying acting with Stella Adler or performing Chekhov until he went half-mad.
"It looks like Myst", says my father, a man who seems to hold most computer games in either bemused awe or confused contempt.

I'm about to deliver a biting remark, but I look again. The fog... the simple sound effects that would have sounded so good even coming out of our old speakers... the bottles that probably held some sort of clue, the letter that could easily be a portal to another Age, the sense of decay, of age, of a glory long past...

He was right. It did look like Myst

I should be writing about the play, I know. But I don't have the vocabulary to describe these things, and I'm not sure how much I can reveal. Let it be said that seeing Sir Ian play a character of seeming weakness-- a doddering old man-- seemed perfectly natural, even after the 12+ hours I've spent watching him play virtual demigods. Let it be said that he was perfectly in control of his character's mix of nobility and failure, and that the dialog was perfectly paced. There would be a remark that would hang in the air just a beat too long, so that whatever came next was either devastatingly funny ("You are the only woman I've ever had pity on. All the others deserved what they got" was one gem only i laughed at) or strangely tragic, or a mixture of both.

Even with the little i know of the theater I could see echoes of the eternal doomed conflict between long-married spouses in Edward Albee and Samuel Beckett (i saw a great student production of Endgame last year... i hope i wrote about it). The text of the play deserves study and quotation, and the performance was flawless. It started as a light comedy, turned into a very dark comedy, turned into some mix of comedy and drama, got slightly surreal, made me regret how I treated my family, and made we wonder if living in some prison-turned-home with a loved/hated wife is the fate of all misanthropes.

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