Tragedies of a Tragedy
Two days after this past Christmas, I finished vacuuming dog hair and completed my projects in order to return home after our family Christmas vacation. The rest of my family left the day prior which allowed me to clean up without the four-legged companions. With car packed, final walk-through done, and thermostat turned down to lower than 65 degrees despite the deep freeze outside, I felt a little off and decided to sit down for a minute before my seven hour drive.
Six hours later, I crawled off the couch in desperate search of aspirin and a goal to crank up the thermostat. I was burning up with a fever and chills the likes of which I could not recall in all my years. Swallowing felt as if shards of glass remained lodged in my throat. I knew I was in bad shape, but still marveled at how quickly such an illness struck and with such strength.
I found two Tylenol and two Advil. I could make it until the next morning. I turned up the heat, crawled under all the blankets I could find, and did not move until the next morning. At some point, I called my wife to advise that I would not be home and asked her to check on the condition of the boys who travelled back to their places after Christmas. No one else was ill.
The next morning, I recall getting to the pharmacy, purchasing Tylenol and Advil as well as any over the counter medication I could grab. I drove the seven hours to get home, but honestly recall very little of the trip. First thing Thursday morning, now 48 hours into an excessively high fever and flaming throat, I sat in my car outside a doctor’s office. I would not be allowed in until they secured test results from swabbing my throat and nasal cavities. Good news! No flu which was rampant at that time. Not so good news. Strep throat. Even less good news. Covid.
I had been vaccinated. I had been boosted. I had been boosted again. I sanitized. I socially distanced. I tried to stay in my bubble as much as reasonably possible. I stopped handshaking and had only been fist-bumping ever since we came out of quarantine. I could not escape forever the “next” or “new” iteration of Covid.
But where could I have picked it up? Our nuclear family did not really interact with others over the Christmas weekend as we played cards and board games. No one else entered our family bubble. No one else in the family became ill with all family members then repeatedly testing negative for Covid. Two prime candidates emerged: a crowded Christmas church service and Walmart. We went to Christmas Eve Mass on Friday evening with Covid not knocking me flat until the following Tuesday. Perhaps too much time between exposure and onset of the illness. Plus, no one else in close contact became sick. I went to Walmart on Monday, one day before Covid struck, for cleaning supplies. The crowd size at Walmart was decent as many were lined up to return gifts. In addition to shoppers, there were Walmart workers. To quote Jack Nicholson in As Good As it Gets, “I seen the help, it’s a judgment call.” It would be easy to cast blame on an Alabama Walmart as ground zero for my Covid infection, but the truth remains I just do not know the source (it was definitely Walmart!).
The diagnosis within 48 hours allowed me to be placed on certain Covid medication designed to dramatically shorten the length of the illness. Together with an exceedingly hefty dose of antibiotics for the strep throat, I rebounded amazingly quickly. Nonetheless, the doctor instructed that I remain entirely isolated from all others for an additional five days. Exciting New Year’s Eve on the horizon for us as I remained quarantined in one of our son’s childhood bedrooms.
After a few days of medication and rest, I started writing. Focusing on legal work challenged me at this stage, but I discovered I could write for a while, rest for a while, then write again. Over the next few days, I knocked out a few Blog articles and some client educational blurbs. The solitude permitted me to focus on writing. Wow! Something positive from my own little Covid isolation.
During the pandemic, I wrote Blog articles, at times, seeking to find the positive in our bubbles and our own quarantine. I noted how we stoked socially distant friendships among neighbors as we constantly went out for walks. I observed how we tackled long put off chores such as cleaning out the attic or those spare bedrooms that our now grown kids once occupied. (Note to self, replace a bed in kid’s former bedroom so I have a place to sleep in future quarantine). Now I discovered another unanticipated benefit: time to contemplate and write.
It struck me that perhaps some of our most accomplished artists may have created significant works during forced quarantine and quiet periods of a pandemic. Prior to advances in medicine and science, pandemics, of course, were at least not uncommon. It took very little research to discover some historic, pandemic-based gems courtesy of the Bard, William Shakespeare.
Shakespeare’s prime writing years covered the 1590s through the first part of the 1600s. Pandemics, resulting from plagues, struck the entire European continent, and most especially larger cities, such as London. Quarantines became a regular feature of life during the period from 1603-1613. To understand how plague-induced quarantines impacted Shakespeare, it assists to appreciate the way young theater businesses evolved at that time.
A mere generation before Shakespeare, in the mid-1500s, theater groups would travel to their audiences. The groups, or theater troupe, performed at outside venues with locals gathering for performances. Private, indoor theater productions could be arranged for the elite, but such shows remained the exception.
By 1590, dedicated theaters began appearing in larger populated areas. These theaters attracted a fairly broad segment of society. Theater companies became based in and associated with theater buildings. Shakespeare matured as an actor and young playwright in 1590s England. His success resulted in his ownership stake in two theaters by the early 1600s: the Blackfriars Theatre and the Globe Theatre. By 1606, Shakespeare controlled the King’s Men troupe of theater actors.
Theaters constituted the Netflix of the early 1600s. Theater goers constantly demanded new performances. In part, Shakespeare’s prolific writing served as the fuel for his theaters. The Bard needed to pump out new productions to appease demand. Romeo and Juliet quickly penned just to satisfy the next Summer season. The Taming of the Shrew shrewdly jotted down just to have another new feature. Incredible.
However, the pandemics of the time struck the burgeoning theater companies like a Greek tragedy. While little may have been understood about the medical and scientific side of the plagues, 1600’s society knew that larger crowds resulted in faster spread of the disease. These new theaters and the crowds they attracted became associated not only with the spread of plague, but the cause of plague itself. Theaters and their productions dared to portray lewd scenes and cross-dressing actors. Therefore, theaters must be the source of the disease! An early 1600’s preacher famously declared: “The cause of plagues is sin, and the cause of sin is plays.” Good thing that we as an enlightened society moved away from demonizing those with whom we disagree.
As a result, when a pandemic hit, theaters were the first structures ordered to shutter.
The outbreak of plague in 1606 in England caused extraordinarily lengthy closures of all city-based operations. The actors from Shakespeare’s theater companies left for the countryside which had fewer restrictions in order to continue outdoor performances. Shakespeare struggled to keep his theater companies afloat and he himself relocated to the country in his own quarantine.
Shakespeare’s work product penned during the 1606 exile: King Lear; Antony and Cleopatra; and Macbeth. Absent the 1606 plague, we would not have the tremendous insult: “You are not worth the dust which the rude wind blows in your face.” We would not know that the prince of darkness is a gentleman! The darkest of all Shakespearean plays, King Lear, would not have been written.
Think of the many future works using the concept of “something wicked this way comes” from Macbeth which would never have been written. Would the damned spot ever get out? Imagine the consequences if Birnam wood never came to Dunsinane hill! And how could we know that eternity was in our lips and in our eyes if not spoken by Cleopatra? The tragedy would be never having these Tragedies.
Returning to the theaters for the 1607 season in Shakespeare’s theaters could have included these classic plays. Not a bad year to have purchased season tickets!
Our own pandemic with Covid represented the first real event I could use with clients in discussing estate planning issues and the need to prepare for the unknown events and uncertainties. We really have not had events with global impacts involving loss of life since WWII. I do not dwell on the fragile nature of life in those discussions as the message is plain. I do seek to find uplifting or positive messages of what may arise from those dire circumstances. I now can include my favorite Shakespearean play, Macbeth, as the cornerstone example of positives coming out of challenging situations.
Shakespeare during quarantine: “Double, double, toil and trouble, fire burn and cauldron bubble.” Me during quarantine: “Oh boy! I wrote two Blog articles!” Somehow my effort feels much less of an accomplishment now. Thank you, Mr. Shakespeare, for your real work during a pandemic, serving once more as an inspiration, and penning classics as if crafting simple thank you letters. I am going to re-read Macbeth again and marvel at my pedantic existence. If you become stuck in your own forced time out from all others whether due to Covid or any other circumstance, look to Shakespeare as reminder that we can all try a little harder.