Early dances of death emphasized an egalitarian message that everyone will die, regardless of status, position, wealth, or lifestyles. Holbein’s sequence further imparted the idea of death’s unpredictability, perhaps encouraging one to “be prepared.” In either case, death was pictured as an inevitability in spite of the details of an individual life. Death was an external, supernatural, and impersonal force who could neither be bargained with nor deterred.
In contrast, modern dances of death began to examine human culpability in the invitation of death, whether through new human inventions, folly and vice, or societal pressures. The speed of life, embodied in technologies of transportation, the daily grind, and the means of alleviating the pressures these generated – clubs and parties, booze and jazz, gambling – were depicted as opportunities for Death to intervene.