Shakespeare and Plague | Breaking Bard Ep. 18

“I could draw forth a catalogue of many poore wretches, that in fields, in ditches, in common Cages, and under stalls (being either thrust by cruell maisters out of doores, or wanting all worldly succor but the common benefit of earth and aire) have most miserably perished.”
-Thomas Dekker “The Wonderful Year”

The bubonic plague was a regular part of Shakespeare’s life. He lived through several large outbreaks, and even when there wasn’t an outbreak, the threat always loomed. With each wave significant portions of the population died. Death was everywhere and the ringing of the church bells served as a grim reminder. Shakespeare, as a man of the theater, was particularly susceptible to the effects of plague because an outbreak meant the theaters closed, which meant he received no pay.

So, what did Shakespeare do with his time? Well, he most likely wrote. In his early years, it was poetry to be published. In his later years, he probably wrote plays. Today we will be exploring how the bubonic plague affected Shakespeare and his writing. Strap on your plague masks and join me and Eli as we discuss plague shutdowns in Shakespeare’s England.

The Guardian
The Folger Shakespeare Library

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