an important conclusion reached by chloe and i today while watching henry iv pt. 1:
we think of shakespeare as writing in a Dignified Manner up in his room with a quill and looking very serious and occasionally getting writer’s block and staring dramatically out the window as he…
oh dont mind me just texting the slaves free
Mary is dragging me to a play tonight #boredd #killme
seriously jealousy is the worst emotion
you’re not only really sad but you’re really annoyed and helpless at the same time
and you feel pathetic like you’re ruining people’s fun but don’t want to be left out so you just sit around quietly annoyed
During the Bubonic Plague, doctors wore these bird-like masks to avoid becoming sick. They would fill the beaks with spices and rose petals, so they wouldn’t have to smell the rotting bodies.
A theory during the Bubonic Plague was that the plague was caused by evil spirits. To scare the spirits away, the masks were intentionally designed to be creepy.
Mission fucking accomplished
Okay so I love this but it doesn’t cover the half of why the design is awesome and actually borders on making sense.
It wasn’t just that they didn’t want to smell the infected and dead, they thought it was crucial to protecting themselves. They had no way of knowing about what actually caused the plague, and so one of the other theories was that the smell of the infected all by itself was evil and could transmit the plague. So not only would they fill their masks with aromatic herbs and flowers, they would also burn fires in public areas, so that the smell of the smoke would “clear the air”. This all related to the miasma theory of contagion, which was one of the major theories out there until the 19th century. And it makes sense, in a way. Plague victims smelled awful, and there’s a general correlation between horrible septic smells and getting horribly sick if you’re around what causes them for too long.
You can see now that we’ve got two different theories as to what caused the plague that were worked into the design. That’s because the whole thing was an attempt by the doctors to cover as many bases as they could think of, and we’re still not done.
The glass eyepieces. They were either darkened or red, not something you generally want to have to contend with when examining patients. But the plague might be spread by eye contact via the evil eye, so best to ward that off too.
The illustration shows a doctor holding a stick. This was an examination tool, that helped the doctors keep some distance between themselves and the infected. They already had gloves on, but the extra level of separation was apparently deemed necessary. You could even take a pulse with it. Or keep people the fuck away from you, which was apparently a documented use.
Finally, the robe. It’s not just to look fancy, the cloth was waxed, as were all of the rest of their clothes. What’s one of the properties of wax? Water-based fluids aren’t absorbed by it. This was the closest you could get to a sterile, fully protecting garment back then. Because at least one person along the line was smart enough to think “Gee, I’d really rather not have the stuff coming out of those weeping sores anywhere on my person”.
So between all of these there’s a real sense that a lot of real thought was put into making sure the doctors were protected, even if they couldn’t exactly be sure from what. They worked with what information they had. And frankly, it’s a great design given what was available! You limit exposure to aspirated liquids, limit exposure to contaminated liquids already present, you limit contact with the infected. You also don’t give fleas any really good place to hop onto. That’s actually useful.
Beyond that, there were contracts the doctors would sign before they even got near a patient. They were to be under quarantine themselves, they wouldn’t treat patients without a custodian monitoring them and helping when something had to be physically contacted, and they would not treat non-plague patients for the duration. There was an actual system in place by the time the plague doctors really became a thing to make sure they didn’t infect anyone either.
These guys were the product of the scientific process at work, and the scientific process made a bitchin’ proto-hazmat suit. And containment protocols!
Plague doctors: not just a cool suit! :D
YES PERF. One correction, though: The suits actually did the opposite when it came to the fleas. They were able to wiggle up the legs pretty easily; there’s written documentation of doctors scratching their legs DURING patient examinations.
I love the stick, too. There are contemporary drawings of doctors examining patients through windows. They wouldn’t even go into houses after a point. And sometimes the houses were quarantined, so families were trapped inside with plague victims.
Other things they thought might have caused the plague: planetary alignments and the Jewish people. :I
oh shit, they’re onto us
Re: contracts for doctors: where? When? Different cities dealt with the plague differently. By the late 14th c. one of the Italian cities had their system down to a fine art - lock infected households until they either starved or recovered. Very low average death rate as a result!
As for Jewish people, if it’s any consolation, one of the theories for why Poland had such a low relative death rate is the comparatively high percentage of Jewish residents. Who, y’know, wash. Regularly. I THINK I read something about that theory being upheld by apparently lower death rates in muslim v christian spain but the records aren’t reliable enough to be certain.
I read that the reason Poland escaped lightly is that they more or less closed their borders for the duration. It’s actually documented (in papal bulls trying to get the mobs to stop fucking murdering all the Jews they could find) that the average Jewish death rate was about the same as the Christian population. (Who, you know, washed as well, by and large.)
Of course, the plague doctor’s costume featured here is from the 17th century, NOT from the 14th century. People tend to forget that there were many plagues in Europe, not just the “Black Death” of the 1300s that decimated the European population, and gave rise to the Renaissance.
The plague doctor’s suit in the bottom left illustration is from a 1656 engraving by Paulus Fürst detailing the design developed by French physician Charles de Lorme in the early 1600s.