The bubonic plague and how it affected the Elizabethan era
The bubonic plague originated in the Gobi dessert. It was transmitted by fleas which in turn were carried by rats and other animals. The first recorded incident of the plague was in the 6th century. However, the European way of life began to change when people began to move from rural communities to large cities. Innovations in travel at the time allowed for more trade. Trade routes began to connect all parts of the “known” world. European, Asian and even some African populations were destined for disaster.
While the increased use of trade routes ensured the spread of the disease throughout the “known” world, unsanitary conditions in growing cities resulted in an epidemic in which roughly a third of the planet’s human population died. During the Elizabethan era, sewage was dumped on the streets of London and the nearby River Thames was used as a garbage dump. Most of the streets and alleys in London were narrow and narrow. These filthy conditions resulted in a swarm of rats. The rats contracted fleas from other rats and animals that came to England via various overseas trade routes. Immediately, the infected fleas mixed with the rat populations. As the bacterial pathogen responsible for the plague killed the rats, the infected fleas began attacking humans. The epidemic was in full swing at that time.
All businesses were badly affected by the plague, but the theater was one of the most devastated. The Old Globe Theater was closed by the English authorities in their futile attempts to stop the spread of the bubonic plague, also known as the “Black Death”. Shakespeare’s family was not immune to the disease, and several of his brothers died from it. The epidemic must have influenced him in much the same way as it did all the survivors in Europe. Maybe that’s why he wrote so many tragedies.
The symptoms of the plague were: “buboes” or swollen lymph nodes in the armpits, legs, neck or groin; high fever; delirium; bleeding from the lungs; muscular breads; and an intense desire to sleep, which if it gave way quickly proved fatal. The “buboes” started out red, then turned purple and black as the disease progressed. “Bleeding” or cutting a vein to let blood drain out of the infected areas was a common practice. Surprisingly, the blood was black, with a vile and disgusting smell, with some greenish grime mixed in.
As no one knew what caused the “Black Death”, attempts to stop it were generally in vain. Doctors wore protective clothing that actually prevented flea bites and a mask that contained an oil that filtered the air they breathed. Although these safety measures were found to be effective, the treatments for the plague were generally herbs that were applied to relieve symptoms. The lack of people to care for the sick was great, as everyone feared for their lives. Disposing of the bodies was a horrible task. The workers soon became few, so the recovered victims were forced to help in that difficult cleanup.