A Walk in the Park Leads to Reflections on the Covid-19 Crisis, Shakespeare and The Plague…

I went for a walk with my son Jamie to St Nicholas Park in Warwick on a beautiful warm sunny day.

view of castle from St Nicholas Park Warwick
view of castle from St Nicholas Park Warwick

We found very few people, all observing the 2 metre rule.

The atmosphere was like a dreamy quiet Sunday afternoon in a sleepy village in the 1950s.

I thought, If this was a dystopian scenario, what would be the reason why this highly favoured park is so devoid of people?

Alien invasion by hostile life forms? A deadly contagion in the air?

As soon as the words “deadly contagion in the air” came into my mind, I remembered Shakespeare’s words through the voice of Hamlet (in Act 3 Scene 2):

“‘Tis now the very witching time of night,

When churchyards yawn, and hell itself breathes out

Contagion to this world.”

During the time of the Black Death, many held that it was caused by a miasma, a noxious form of bad air.

But that words contagion reminded me that Shakespeare may well have been speaking of the graves of plague victims. If their dead bodies had been exposed, contagion would indeed have breathed out into the air.

Throughout this crisis I admit I have again and again thought of the Plague and the Black Death.

map of the worldwide spread of the Black Death
map of the worldwide spread of the Black Death

How difficult it is for us to imagine what it would have been like for them, with no understanding of what caused the contagion, no real idea of how to stop it or protect themselves, no centralised source of reliable information, no medical science to help them. Just people dying everywhere, parents losing children, babies left orphaned and alone, families being sealed up alive inside houses because their loved ones had the plague.

And yet I’ve also thought, we’re really no better than those medieval plague sufferers. We too swiftly snatch at rumours. All sorts of wild ideas have arisen of how you can protect yourself from the virus, along with ideas of where the virus has come from and whether we can blame anybody for it. With all the resources of the modern world, we still easily revert to our ancestors’ way of thinking.

On the news it was reported that a man had been observed walking through a public park wearing the garb of a medieval Plague Doctor, and some had complained that he would frighten their children.

medieval plague doctor
Medieval Plague doctor

I thought to myself, ‘Good for him. He’s teaching people a history lesson, whilst at the same time probably wearing the ideal PPE.’ The police said they were going to “have a word” with this gentleman.

No, what we are suffering cannot be compared to the horrors of the Bubonic Plague. Nevertheless I still believe it’s good for us to occasionally imagine ourselves back there, and even in the midst of our distressing times, remember with compassion those in the past, whose situation was far worse.