Worst Diseases in Shakespeare's London

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From a disease standpoint, Shakespeare was living in arguably the worst place and time in history. Shakespeare's overcrowded, rat-infested, sexually promiscuous London, with raw sewage flowing in the Thames, was the hub for the nastiest diseases known to mankind. Here are the worst of the worst. 1. Plague It is little surprise that the plague was the most dreaded disease of Shakespeare's time. Carried by fleas living on the fur of rats, the plague swept through London in 1563, 1578-9, 1582, 1592-3, and 1603 (Singman, 52). The outbreaks in 1563 and 1603 were the most ferocious, each wiping out over one quarter of London's population. Lucky Elizabethans would contract the basic bubonic plague with their odds of survival around fifty percent. Symptoms would include red, grossly inflamed and swollen lymph nodes, called buboes (hence the name bubonic), high fever, delirium, and convulsions. However, if the bacterial infection spread to the lungs (pneumonic plague) or to the bloodstream (septicemic plague) the unfortunate victim would certainly die, usually within hours with symptoms too horrific to recount. The Elizabethan pamphleteer Thomas Dekker wrote a chilling account of the chaos and despair brought by the plague: Imagine then that all this while, Death (like a Spanish Leagar, or rather like stalking Tamberlaine) hath pitched his tents, (being nothing but a heape of winding sheets tacked together) in the sinfully-polluted Suburbes: the Plague is Muster-maister and Marshall of the field: Burning Feauers, Boyles, Blaines, and Carbuncles, the Leaders, Lieutenants, Serieants, and Corporalls: the maine Army consisting (like Dunkirke) of a mingle-mangle, viz. dumpish Mourners, merry Sextons, hungry Coffin-sellers, scrubbing Bearers, and nastie Graue-makers: but indeed they are the Pioners of the Campe, that are imployed onely (like Moles) in casting up of
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