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The Plague in Print

Essential Elizabethan Sources, 1558-1603

Transcribed and edited with critical commentary by Rebecca Totaro

Publication Year: 2010

Although we are currently bombarded with numerous health scares—AIDS, West Nile virus, avian flu, and the recent swine flu, just to name a few that now fill our media reports and instill dread in the population—we can scarcely imagine the outlook that dominated the mindset of those who endured the bubonic plague in England during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Between the time of the Black Death and the Great Plague, this horrifying bubonic plague struck the country at such regular intervals that it shaped the general consciousness and even produced a popular genre of plague writing. In The Plague in Print, Rebecca Totaro takes the reader into the world of plague-riddled Elizabethan England, documenting the development of distinct subgenres related to the plague and providing unprecedented access to important original sources of early modern plague writing. Totaro elucidates the interdisciplinary nature of plague writing, which raises religious, medical, civic, social, and individual concerns in early modern England.

Each of the primary texts in the collection offers a glimpse into a particular subgenre of plague writing, beginning with Thomas Moulton’s plague remedy and prayers published by the Church of England and devoted to the issue of the plague. William Bullein’s A Dialogue both pleasant and pietyful, a work that both addresses concerns related to the plague and offers humorous literary entertainment, exemplifies the multilayered nature of plague literature. The plague orders of Queen Elizabeth I highlight the community-wide attempts to combat the plague and deal with its manifold dilemmas. And after a plague bill from the Corporation of London, the collection ends with Thomas Dekker’s The Wonderful Year, which illustrates plague literature as it was fully formed, combining attitudes toward the plague from both the Eizabethan and Stuart periods.

These writings offer a vivid picture of important themes particular to plague literature in England, providing valuable insight into the beliefs and fears of those who suffered through bubonic plague but also illuminating the cultural significance of references to the plague in the more familiar early modern literature by Spenser, Donne, Milton, Shakespeare, and others. As a result, The Plague in Print will be of interest to students and scholars in a number of fields, including sixteenth and seventeenth century English literature, cultural studies, medical humanities, and the history of medicine.

Published by: Duquesne University Press


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Title page, Copyright

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p. v


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p. vii

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pp. ix-x

The Plague in Print: Elizabethan Essential Sources, 1558– 1603 grew out of research conducted for Suffering in Paradise: The Bubonic Plague in English Literature from More to Milton (Duquesne University Press, 2005). Augmented by ongoing scholarly exchange with the members of the 2006–07 Folger Institute ...

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pp. xi-xvi

Mention the bubonic plague and the response might very well be, “Bring out your dead!” — a line from the plague scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail that turned the horror of the Black Death into humor for movie audiences of the 1970s and established a quasi-medieval context for the film. However appealing ...

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Editorial Notes

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pp. xvii-xix

My goal has been to make these six early modern texts accessible without compromising their character. In each case, I have reproduced the full printed text of the earliest available and complete edition listed in the English Short Title Catalog, noting for easy identification corresponding Short Title Catalog (STC) numbers, ...

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1. Plague Remedies. Thomas Moulton: Plague remedy (1531)

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pp. 1-16

As an infusion of classical and continental medical knowledge coincided with an increase in the population and the number of licensed and unlicensed practitioners contributing to the medical marketplace in early modern London, printed health regimens became popular in England, and the majority of them included ...

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2. Plague Prayers. The Church of England: A Form to be used in Common prayer (1563)

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pp. 17-48

Between the punctuations of flight and return, people waited out plague visitations, and they did what they could to prepare and defend themselves by turning not only to medical practitioners but also to their Bibles and prayer books, which were indispensable sources of consolation in plague-time. Plague was always ...

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3. Plague Literature. William Bullein: A Dialogue both pleasant and pietyful (1564)

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pp. 49-178

William Bullein (c. 1515–76) was a practicing physician, first in Northumberland and Durham and later in London. He was also the first English writer to pen a sustained work of literature in English that took the bubonic plague as its exclusive focus. By the time he wrote A Dialogue both pleasant and pietyful, Bullein had already ...

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4. Plague Orders. Queen Elizabeth I: Orders thought meet (1578)

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pp. 179-196

In 1563, Queen Elizabeth I not only contracted and nearly died from smallpox but she also experienced the first visitation of plague during her reign. It was the worst in memory, and the new queen saw her nation suffer. In that year, Elizabeth I adjourned parliament (STC 7962.5); her Privy Councilors William Cecil and ...

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5. Plague Bills. Worshipful Company of Parish Clerks: The Number of all those that hath died (c. 1583)

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pp. 197-204

The bills of mortality in England took form as local governments sought methods for alerting citizens to plague-time dangers and as Privy Council members looked to protect the monarch, the court, and the nation. Under King Henry VIII, for example, Thomas Cromwell required this form of record-keeping for London, but it ...

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6. Plague Literature. Thomas Dekker: The Wonderful Year (1603)

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pp. 205-250

By the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, the depiction of plague in literature had undergone serious revision. In these works of prose and poetry, plague visits London as a tyrant, usurping the position of the queen or king. He comes dressed in battle gear. He comes to rape and pillage. He comes hungry, ready to ...


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pp. 251-264

Medical and Herbal Glossary

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pp. 265-273

Glossary of Names

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pp. 274-278

General Glossary

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pp. 279-286

Suggestions for Further Reading

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pp. 287-292


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pp. 293-300

E-ISBN-13: 9780820705293
Print-ISBN-13: 9780820704265

Page Count: 319
Illustrations: 8 facsimile pages
Publication Year: 2010

OCLC Number: 794698809
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Plague in Print

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Plague -- England -- Literary collections.
  • English literature -- Early modern, 1500-1700.
  • Plague -- England -- History -- 16th century -- Sources.
  • Plague -- England -- History -- 17th century -- Sources.
  • Plague in literature.
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