How strange if people spoke about next year’s plague much the same way as they refer to a forthcoming autumn or as skiers might a winter sports season a year or two away.

Image of part of  a Sailing to Purgatory webpage to illustrate the article.
Victims ... The extraordinary painting by Michiel Sweerts in the 1650s of plague victims in Athens. Thanks to Wikipedia for this view of the painting.
For us, for most of us, anyway, the current plague is a present-day curse robbing us of our summer plans.

But, don’t worry, we’ll make up for it next year.

A hindrance

But will we?

I hasten to shout ‘Yes!’ to the question, and am loathe to add the rider it deserves.

‘Yes, if the plague lets us.’ We do take it for granted that it’s a 2020 hindrance, a plague, that won’t be there in the future. Lucky us, if the plague doesn’t forget to go.

No faraway places

It certainly didn’t apply back in Shakespeare’s day when the plague was the plague, with no adding on of faraway place names, nor with scientists’ synonyms tacked on.

Image of part of  a Sailing to Purgatory webpage to illustrate the article.
Big smoke ... 'A guide for Cuntrey men In the famous Cittey of London. A map of London by John Norden, 1593.' How London looked about 400 years ago, as Shakespeare probably knew it. Thanks to Wikipedia for a copy of John Norden's amazing map of London, dated 1593.
Particularly at the moment, it’s ghastly to recall that the plague was around when the great writer was born, and through his comparatively short lifetime, and still a present nightmare when he died.

The word appears in his works alright but never dominates his drama’s conversations back then, the conversations we hear echoed in theatres today ... when theatres are allowed to open, that is.

Stephen Greenblatt, writing in the The New Yorker, confirms that Shakespeare lived his entire life in the presence of bubonic plague.

‘Such outbreaks did not rage on forever,’ he writes. ‘With the help of strict quarantines and a change in the weather, the epidemic would slowly wane, as it did in Stratford, and life would resume its normal course.

‘But, after an interval of a few years, in cities and towns throughout the realm, the plague would return.

‘It generally appeared on the scene with little or no warning, and it was terrifyingly contagious.

Fever and chills

‘Victims would awaken with fever and chills. A feeling of extreme weakness or exhaustion would give way to diarrhoea, vomiting, bleeding from the mouth, nose, or rectum, and tell-tale swollen lymph nodes in the groin or armpit.

‘Death, often in great agony, would almost inevitably follow.’

Interestingly, the article shows that the authorities back then developed plans to assure the plague it wasn’t welcome.

When deaths increased well above the normal, civic leaders banned assemblies, feasts, archery contests, and other forms of mass gathering.

However, they realised that God was hardly likely to let the plague trouble the faithful, so church services were not stopped.

Stephen Greenblatt, the John Cogan University Professor of the Humanities at Harvard, writes, ‘But the public theatres in London, which routinely brought together two or three thousand people in an enclosed space, were ordered shut.’

Of course, we have what Shakespeare’s days didn’t, the internet and all its offerings to lessen the agony of being stuck inside.

Hopefully, though, today’s theatres will be open again very soon … and - even more - that our plague respects a cold shoulder and clears off …

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