The Dance of Death (Auden play)

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First edition
(publ. Faber & Faber)

The Dance of Death is a one-act play in verse and prose by W. H. Auden, published in 1933.

The Dance of Death is a satiric musical extravaganza that portrays the "death inside" the middle classes as a silent dancer. The dancer first attempts to keep himself alive through escapism at a resort hotel, then through nationalistic enthusiasm, then through idealism, then through a New Year's party at a brothel, before he finally dies. Karl Marx appears on stage and pronounces the dancer dead. "The instruments of production have been too much for him."

The play was published by Faber & Faber in 1933, with a dedication to Robert Medley and Rupert Doone. It was performed by the Group Theatre (London), in 1934 and 1935. It was widely interpreted as pro-Communist, but Auden later wrote in a copy of the printed text, "The communists never spotted that this was a nihilistic leg-pull".


  • W. H. Auden and Christopher Isherwood. Plays and other dramatic writings by W. H. Auden, 1928-1938, ed. by Edward Mendelson (1986). (Text of the play, with historical and textual notes)
  • John Fuller, W. H. Auden: A Commentary (1999).
  • Edward Mendelson, Early Auden (1981).

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