Social Distancing in Elizabethan England in the Time of the Plague
In William Shakespeare’s time, London was ravaged by the bubonic plague. Public health regulation was haphazard at best in Elizabethan England, but one official measure that people seem to understand was that isolation of plague victims seem to slow down the spread of the disease. Hence the nailing shut of quarantined houses. They grasped too the relationship between the progress of the epidemics and large crowds. Authorities did not cancel church services, but when plague deaths began to rise they did shut down the theaters. This, of course, included the Globe Theater in which Shakespeare mounted his productions. The rule of thumb to shutter the theaters was 30 deaths per week. The enemies of the theaters became even more strident in their criticism, shouting that God had sent the plague to punish London for its sins, above all whoredom, sodomy, and playacting.
Source: Will in the World, by Stephen Greenblatt
Photos: by Benn Bell