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A Treatise of Daunses



A treatise of daunses. London, 1581

A decade before Shakespeare's players broke a leg on stage, some took a dim view of those who "whirle about, and shake [their] legges aloft." Can there be "any honesty in such folishnes?"

 

Such was the view expressed by the author of this anonymous tract from 1581 that sees dancing as “infection and filthiness,” and warns that “impudent, shameless, and dissolute gestures” would lead to no good.  The diatribe also castigates immodest dressing, loose language, and “playes . . . [which] ought not to be among Christians”—not the first time playhouses rubbed elbows with brothels in Elizabethan times.

 

There are more than one hundred references to dance and dancing in Shakespeare, none pejorative and none associated with wantonness or "whoredom," but today, when we consider dance an art form, it is easy to forget there was once another view hotly professed by some of Shakespeare’s more devout contemporaries. The Folger’s copy of this red-faced rant is the only one in North America and one of only three in the world.

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