Today we are experiencing the world, and our own fragility, as most of human history has always known it. Let’s just look at the life of the world’s greatest writer, William Shakespeare:
- He was born in 1564, a plague year. One third of the population of Stratford died this year, but not the infant William.
- In 1592, just as the playwright’s career was beginning to gather steam in London, the theatres had to close because of the plague. They reopened briefly that winter, then had to close again the following spring and for most of 1593. Sound familiar? Eleven thousand deaths were recorded in London over this period—at its peak, one thousand a day. Most of the deaths occurred among the poor. Does this also sound familiar?
- In 1603, King James I had to cancel his inauguration parade because of the plague. Again the theatres closed.
- In 1610-11, another outbreak hit the city. No doubt, this must have figured in Williams’ decision to return to Stratford for good.
In this uncertain world of political upheaval and capricious death, Shakespeare managed to produce masterpiece after masterpiece which still resonate in our times. His fellow actors rushed back to the stage just as soon as they were allowed to re-open. From the Globe they shared with the world the wisdom of Hamlet, King Lear, Othello, Macbeth, Twelfth Night, As You Like It and so forth.
Who knows what other works of genius the Plague forever deprived us of?
Ars longa, vita brevis.