The weight of this sad time we must obey.
Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say. -King Lear, 5.3.16
Pandemic Shakespeare is a digital edition project which takes as its central premise that Shakespeare, like COVID-19, is a global phenomenon. The three focus plays for this project are Twelfth Night, The Winter's Tale, and King Lear. Although Shakespeare never wrote a play explicitly concerned with the plague, he lived through no less than three plague outbreaks during his lifetime, and the traumatic echoes of mass illness and its attendant anxiety bleed into his imagery, themes, plots, and characters.
Plague imagery which might have lost its specificity over time now takes on a new poignancy; when Lear curses his daughter and her husband with “vengeance, plague, death, confusion,” and berates her as a “plague-sore or embossed carbuncle in my corrupted blood,” we feel the sting more acutely now than ever. When Camillo, in The Winter’s Tale, identifies a “sickness...caught of you that yet are well,” we cannot help but imagine the “invisible” carriers of COVID-19. These relevant connections extend far beyond the explicit mention of infection; for instance, the forced separation of the characters in both King Lear and The Winter’s Tale, and the fantasy of reunion, fulfilled or unfulfilled, therein cannot help but remind us of our own isolation, and the uncertainty of its duration.
Visitors to this site are encouraged to engage with themes of plague (as well as themes of gender, race, sexuality, and origins) by contributing unique annotations to the texts of these plays. To read more about our project, please visit our About pages and to begin annotating, visit our Annotate the Plays pages.
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