Plague Writing in Early Modern England

Plague Writing in Early Modern England

Ernest B. Gilman

Print publication date: 2013

ISBN: 9780226294094

Publisher: University of Chicago Press


During the seventeenth century, England was beset by three epidemics of the bubonic plague, each outbreak claiming between a quarter and a third of the population of London and other urban centers. Surveying a wide range of responses to these epidemics—sermons, medical tracts, pious exhortations, satirical pamphlets, and political commentary—this book aims to bring to life the many and complex ways Londoners made sense of such unspeakable devastation. The book argues that the plague writing of the period attempted unsuccessfully to rationalize the catastrophic, and that its failure to account for the plague as an instrument of divine justice fundamentally threatened the core of Christian belief. It also trains a critical eye on the works of Jonson, Donne, Pepys, and Defoe, which, it posits, can be more fully understood when put into the context of this century-long project to “write out” the plague.