German scientist and satirist, Georg C. Lichtenberg, once said, “Sickness is mankind's greatest defect.” Sickness affects everyone, no matter where one is from or how one lives. Even in today’s world with modern medicine, sickness runs rampant. If one were to think back to when the only cures society had were rituals, a prime example of sickness in a society is England. Recalling the plagues in England, one can easily see the two prominent plagues that struck, along with how they affected English economy and culture.
In the 1300’s, England was struck with a plague called the Bubonic Plague, better known as the “Black Death.” Historians believe this disease arrived by ship at a seaport in modern day Ukraine (Byrne 1). Fleas living on the back of rats were the main cause of spreading. Because of the poor living conditions, rats were very common in towns, making it simple for fleas to bite the human, giving them the disease. Symptoms were easily spotted; the victim would have lumps on his or her groin and armpits, which would then turn to black spots on the arms and thighs (Trueman 1). Most who suffered form this epidemic did not live past three days (Trueman 1). Because the vermin spread this disease so rapidly, it would eventually affect most of Europe. The source of the Black Death was unknown at the time; therefore physicians could not stop the spread or treat the infected (Byrne 1). Many people thought that it was God’s punishment, so to appease Him, they publicly whipped themselves (Byrne 1). Before declining, the Black Death killed around forty percent of the European populations, which is about 25 million victims, making it one of the most widely known epidemics. Once the Bubonic Plague died out, it only had two other accounts of reappearance: once in England in 1902 and again in 1906 (Bollet 23).
In 1665, London was struck by the Great Plague of London. Like the Black Death, the disease was spread by fleas living on rodents. Though the symptoms of this plague were much more subtle, the outcome was very similar. The first signs were fever and chills; after this, the victim’s lymph glands became swollen, resulting in death (Great 1). Again, the source of the epidemic was unknown to the citizens therefore treatment was futile. In just a week, the plague took 7,165 people’s lives; the total death toll was near 70,000 (Great 1). One account of this plague is found in Defoe’s “Great Plague in London” which states:
Another ran about naked, except a pair of drawers about his waist, crying day and night. As a man that Josephus mentions, who cried, "Woe to Jerusalem!" a little dreadful God!" and said no more, but repeated these words continually, with a voice and countenance full of horror, a swift pace; and...