When I read that five people had escaped a Hamilton quarantine hotel I was chillingly reminded of just how fragile our coronavirus status is.

Irresponsible behaviour like that can so easily affect the rest of us.

Then it occurred to me that it had all been done before. Enid Blyton wrote Five Run Away Together and Five Get Into Trouble. Coincidence? I say not.

And even before that the influences are obvious. I'm sure Noddy lived by himself. And didn't Big Ears live alone in his toadstool?

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It finally dawned on me. They were self-isolating! Well, mostly, because am I not right in thinking that Noddy once went to Big Ears' toadstool for "tea"?

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Perhaps an upcoming but never published Enid Blyton title was Toyland Goes Into Lockdown.

But then I read something in a UK publication which took this idea back hundreds of years - back, in fact, to William Shakespeare (1564-1616). The writer's theory was that, because Shakey lived through some shaky plagues and pestilence just as we are doing, the famous soliloquies were delivered by lead characters social distancing on stage

As you can probably imagine, this theory tickled my fancy even though I'm not sure that I actually have a fancy.

At the risk of blowing this excellent theory, I engaged in some limited research. To my relief the theory survived, at least according to Amanda Mabillard's Worst Diseases in Shakespeare's London (2000).

Mabillard described Shakespeare's London as "overcrowded, rat-infested and sexually promiscuous with raw sewage flowing in the Thames". Not a pretty picture.

There was the plague which swept through London on a number of occasions, the worst outbreaks being in 1563 and 1603, both of which wiped out a quarter of London's population. Perhaps it helps explain Mercutio's utterance about the Capulets and the Montagues: "A plague on both your houses!"

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Interestingly, according to the Mabillard article, the wording in the original text was "A pox of your houses!"

During one outbreak (1592-1593) the Crown ordered the closure of all London theatres and this was just as Henry VI was running. This was no doubt devastating to Shakespeare but it confirms that he certainly experienced the financial downsides of lockdown, long before we did.

Smallpox, syphilis, typhus and malaria were also common. In 1562 even Queen Elizabeth, then 29, was attacked by smallpox and rendered bald by the virus.

And, according to one source, London hospitals were unable to cope with the "infinite multitude" of syphilis sufferers.

It is therefore no wonder that some of Shakespeare's lead characters chose to self-isolate at the front of the stage. "To be or not to be," indeed!

And Juliet: "What's in a name? That which we call Covid by any other name would havoc wreak."

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Wyn Drabble
Wyn Drabble

Or how about Caliban wishing multiple infections on Prospero in The Tempest?

"All the infections that the sun sucks up
From bogs, fens, flats, on Prospero fall and make him
By inch-meal a disease!"

Hamlet was almost certainly self-isolating on the apron of the stage when he uttered:

"O, that this too too solid flesh would melt
Thaw and resolve itself into a dew."

I don't know whether we can call "Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears" a soliloquy because Mark Antony does not appear to be self-isolating. In fact, he appears to be addressing a gathering so it is likely that, at this time, there was no limit on the number of people who could assemble at one gathering.

Anyway, all of this goes to confirm the old adage that there's nothing new under the sun.

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And I think I might be on to a winner if I write and publish Five Discover a Vaccine.


Wyn Drabble is a teacher of English, a writer, musician and public speaker.