Poverty, plague, and prison

Dalrymple’s latest BMJ piece (subscription required), on Thomas Decker’s pamphlet The Wonderfull Yeare, begins…


Little is known of the life of the playwright Thomas Dekker (1572-1632) except that it was dominated by poverty, plague, and prison. He spent at least seven years in prison for debt, which illustrates our moral progress: if imprisonment for debt were still the practice, half the population would be permanently incarcerated.

…and continues…


Not surprisingly, the pamphlet has many eloquent passages describing an epidemic that killed a fifth of the population: “Let us look forth and try what consolation rises with the sun. Not any, not any; for before the jewel of the morning be fully set in silver, a hundred hungry graves stand gaping, and every one of them, as at a breakfast, hath swallowed down ten or eleven lifeless carcasses. Before dinner, in the same gulf are twice so many more devoured; and before the sun takes his rest, those numbers are doubled.”

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