he fool is about to hit Death with his Fool's bauble — an air-filled bladder. Holbein might have looked at the local dance of death, in Kleinbasel (picture to the left), where the fool is also shown with a bladder at the end of his fool's staff.
Holbein used the same idea in his dance of death alphabet. Here too, the fool is about to hit Death with his bladder.
The bauble with bladder is a phallic symbol(1), and on both of Holbein's pictures, you can see how Death pulls up the fool's "skirt" revealing his manhood. It is af if Death were saying to the fool: "Try hitting me with that stick-with-bladder instead".
Death plays a bagpipe (same instrument as in Tallinn and Berlin). A bagpipe is, like the fool's bauble, an air-filled bladder with a stick.
The same imagery (bagpipe, sticks, fool and phallic symbol) appears in one of Holbein's many other alphabets (to the right): One child plays a bagpipe, while the other is dressed as a fool, has two sticks in his hand and rides a ram.
The image of Death playing the bag-pipes has inspired the dance of death in Holbein's hometown, Basel. See the picture of the pagan woman.
Variations: Birckmann lets Death carry a sword. This is copied by Valvasor and Deuchar.
Birckmann adds a tassel at the end of the bauble, but this is only copied by Valvasor.
Anderson dresses the fool with boots and trousers.