Dance with Death at Green Library on Oct. 31, 2022

November 1, 2022
Kathleen M Smith
Two skeletons seated in the library

In celebration of Halloween–and to encourage us all to look up from our phones and laptops–Green Library was visited by several skeletons on Monday, October 31, to bring to life the Dance of Death.

Two skeletons at the top of a staircase

The long tradition of the Totentanz, or Dance of Death, represents Death as a skeleton interacting with people in all phases of life, as a reminder to medieval and early modern audiences of the transitory nature of earthly pleasures and the fragility of human existence. One of the most famous depictions of the Dance of Death is found in the woodcuts by Hans Holbein (1497-1543), which can be seen in this digitized book in Stanford's collections. 

In partnership with the Theater & Performance Studies Costume Shop, these skeletons found their way to the library from the 2020 Stanford TAPS production of Everybody, a modern adaptation by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins of the 15th-century morality play Everyman. In this morality play, the figure Everybody interacts with the embodiments of Friendship, Kinship, Cousin, Stuff, Evil, Strength, Beauty, Senses, and Mind in the search for life’s meaning before the final encounter with Death.

Image of two skeletons next to a sign that says "Interactive Conversation Zone"

All around us are many interpretations of the theme of the Dance of Death. For example, if you look carefully above the entrance to Green Library facing the Main Quad, you might just notice a robed skeleton paired with a young human figure beneath an open book carved on one of the archways…

Photos by Wayne Vanderkuil. Special thanks to Vince Pane, Sasha Moore, Heather Patterson Miller and TAPS, Kristen Valenti, Spencer Gondorf, and Sarah Sussman for making this event possible!