Bubonic Plague and Shakespeare

The Biography of William Shakespeare

  • How did the Bubonic Plague affect his life?

  • Symptoms, Cures & medical treatment?

  • When were the London outbreaks?

  • How many died? Family deaths? Theatre closures?

  • Interesting information about the family, life and times of William Shakespeare

Picture of a Plague Physician in the
William Shakespeare era!

 

Bubonic Plague and Shakespeare

HOW DID THE BUBONIC PLAGUE (BLACK DEATH) EFFECT THE LIFE OF SHAKESPEARE?

  • William Shakespeare was terrified of the Bubonic Plague - and who can blame him?

  • England had been ravaged by outbreaks of the plague since the 1300's

  • He lost his sisters Joan, Margaret ( just babies) and Anne (aged 7) to the deadly plague

  • He also lost his brother Edmund (aged 27)

  • But the greatest loss to William Shakespeare was his only son, Hamnet, who died when he was just eleven years old

  • So many people from just one family (the number increased after Shakespeare's death when his grandsons, Shakespeare Quiney died in infancy, aged 6 months old, in May 1617 and his brothers Richard and Thomas Quiney died of the plague aged 19 and 20 years of age)

  • No-one knows how many friends, fellow actors and acquaintances of Shakespeare died of the Black Death, but given the number of his close relatives who died, it must have been a significant number

  • There were constant outbreaks of the Bubonic Plague and every time this occurred the Theatres were shut down. The closures occurred in 1593 , 1603 and 1608

  • In 1563, in London alone, over 20,000 people died of the disease - In 1665 the Great Plague of London again decimated the population of the town which killed 16% of the inhabitants (17,500 out of the population of 93,000)

  • The plague was not just confined to the towns. Nowhere was safe the same plague outbreak of 1563 claimed 80,000 people in England

  • From December 1592 until December 1593 Stow (the Elizabethan archivist) reported 10,675 plague deaths in London, a city of approximately 200,000 people

THE SPREAD OF THE BUBONIC PLAGUE

 

  • The City of London was filthy during Shakespeare's era

  • There was no sewage system. The waste was just dumped into the River Thames

  • The disease was transmitted by the fleas that lived on rodents and animals, especially rats

  • The Bubonic plague (Black Death) was always caught or spread from an infected animal or person

THE SYMPTOMS OF THE BUBONIC PLAGUE

  • The symptoms are:

    • Painful swellings in the armpits, legs, neck, or groin

    • Very high fever

    • Delirium and mental disorientation

    • Vomiting

    • Muscular pains

    • Bleeding in the lungs

    • An intense desire to sleep, which, if yielded to, quickly proved fatal

  • The victims would often die within two to four days.

  • The children's song Ring around the Rosy Nursery Rhyme is believed to hold its origins in the Bubonic Plague

WHO HELPED PLAGUE VICTIMS?

  • Some churches administered to the Bubonic Plague victims

  • 'Wise women' were called for help

  • Barbers doubled as surgeons

  • The Apothecary would dispense drugs

  • Only the wealthy would receive the ministrations of an Elizabethan Physician (as pictured above)

  • The Physicians outlandish attire did in fact afford him some protection

    • The bizarre mask shielded their heads and faces from bites from the plague carrying fleas

    • Their robes, boots and gloves shielded their bodies

    • This cover-all clothing would have protected the Physician from the fleas and therefore the  Bubonic Plague

    • The Plague Physician would not have understood why the mask and clothing offered protection but experience would have indicated that these were sensible precautions to take!

THE CURES AND MEDICAL TREATMENTS OF THE BUBONIC PLAGUE

  • The Elizabethans did not know what caused the Plague so they were unable to act against it or take any preventative measures

  • Each symptom was given a separate treatment:

    • Head pains were treated with with sweet-smelling herbs such as rose, lavender, sage, and bay

    • Stomach pains and sickness were treated with wormwood, mint, and balm

    • Lung problems - liquorice and comfrey

    • Vinegar was used as a cleansing agent

    • Bleeding a patient as a general cure for everything

    • Applying leeches to suck the blood of the victim

SHAKESPEARE WAS LIVING WITH DEATH

  • Very few victims of the plague survived

  • Shakespeare really was living with death

  • He must have been in constant fear

  • The number of outbreaks must have been terrifying

  • The whole of the life of William Shakespeare lived under this terrible Cloud of Death

Bubonic Plague and Shakespeare

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