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Fear and Joy in the Dance of Death: Re-Interpreting the 14th Century Plague's Artistic Genre


Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/1928/10322

Fear and Joy in the Dance of Death: Re-Interpreting the 14th Century Plague's Artistic Genre

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Title: Fear and Joy in the Dance of Death: Re-Interpreting the 14th Century Plague's Artistic Genre
Author: Cianflone, Mary
Advisor(s): Santos Newhall, Mary Anne
Committee Member(s): Herrera, Brian Eugenio
Predock-Linnell, Jennifer
Department: University of New Mexico. Dept. of Theater and Dance
Subject: medieval dance
Black Death
danse macabre
dance of death
LC Subject(s): Dance of death--History
Degree Level: Masters
Abstract: This thesis explores dancing bodies in the Dance of Death genre after the 14th century plague, known today as the Black Death. At that time, Western Europe withstood great losses in body count, with one third of the total European population dying, and in the faith and well-being of its civilization (McNeill 168). Even today, the Black Death continues to be a fascinating area of study because of its political, social, religious, and artistic impact. By considering dance, its images, and mythology, scholars can learn more about medieval perceptions of art, bodies, and faith. Taking as my research objective medieval Dance of Death works that specifically depict dancing characters bringing death, including skeletons and the deathly performer in the Pied Piper, I use the study of dance to look at the meaning of the form and garner insight about the emotional tone of the audience. With both images of the Dance and one prominent dancing story, “The Pied Piper of Hamelin,” I explore other possible meanings for this misread art. Previous interpretations of the Dance of Death have been negative or, at best, dismissive. For a more sensitive and thoughtful analysis, it is critical to factor in issues of the body, the spirit, and the faith surrounding the time of the Black Death. Such images and stories have the potential to reveal more than they have in past scholarship. Under this new scrutiny, dance becomes an expression of joy, instead of the ridicule and gloom that many analysts have attributed to it. This latter interpretation is unfair to the history and place of dance amid other arts, as well as the medieval people who struggled to hold onto their faith in a dark time. In the Dance of Death, as shown through visual images and the Pied Piper tale, dance was not another betrayal of God or a morbid mockery of pain, but a way to alleviate the hopelessness of existence and the sorrow of loss.
Graduation Date: December 2009
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/1928/10322

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