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Shakespeare’s life was marked by plague. His life started at the height of the first great Elizabethan outbreak in 1563-4, when the plague wiped out a quarter of the population of Stratford.
Later, when he was working in the theatres of London, the plague was to return once again and change the shape of his career. In 1603, a fresh epidemic swept through London forcing the theatres to close for almost a year and leaving Shakespeare’s company little choice but to head out on the road to tour the provinces.
Meanwhile, the newly-crowned King James I had to with establish himself as the head of a people who were more than a little bit suspicious of Elizabeth’s Scottish cousin, while also faced with impossible task of protecting the nation from the advancing threat of the vile and deadly plague.
This object is from the British Library
Quotations'I hear of none, but the new proclamation/That's clapped upon the court gate.' Henry VIII, Act 1 Scene 3
- Shakespeare was born during the first great Elizabethan plague outbreak (1563-4)
- In February 1564, the Lord Mayor prohibited the performance of plays because of the plague. This was probably the first time such a ban had been issued.
- The 1603 outbreak of plague was the most severe in England since the Black Death of the 14th century and about a fifth of London's population died.
- Print was one of the great weapons against the plague - proclamations were printed, distributed, read out in churches and town squares and then pinned on billboards and posts for all to read
- When the plague was not raging, instead of proclamations there would be playbills posted up to advertise the plays.
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