Shakespeare Connected - Discovering the Guild Chapel
The Dance of Death: reconstruction drawing by Wilfred Puddephat
The Dance of Death was first recorded as being painted on the walls of the Cemetery of the Innocents in Paris in 1424/5. Its central theme was that everyone, regardless of status, must die, and that Death made no distinction between rich and poor, young or old. The verses of the poem were accompanied by depictions of individuals of every rank, from Popes, kings and bishops, to merchants, artisans and even children, dancing with grisly corpses in various states of decay. The Dance of Death spread to England through a manuscript translation by the Benedictine monk and poet, John Lydgate. In 1430, a painted scheme of the Dance of Death was commissioned for the ‘Pardon churchyard’ of Old St. Paul’s cathedral by the wealthy London town clerk, John Carpenter (1371/2-1442). Hugh Clopton would have been very familiar with St. Paul’s Dance of Death and Stratford upon Avon is likely to have been inspired by it. It is possible that the Dance survived the Reformation and was seen by William Shakespeare in the 1570s.
Puddephat’s reconstruction drawing was the product of careful study of the surviving painting and the comparative analysis of surviving manuscripts in the Bodleian Library.
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