A Cultural History of the Plague

"There came a stealthy thief men call Death, Who slays all the people in this country" - Chaucer, The Pardoner's Tale
Programme Details

1348 was ‘the year the pestilence of men raged in England’ and it never really went away until the last great visitation, in 1665. The disease moved West into Europe from China along trade routes in the 1340s, and it killed between one and two thirds of those it infected.

Laura Ashe discovers how plague has changed our social and cultural landscape, from Holbein’s Dance of Death woodcuts in the BritishMuseum to the current craze for zombie movies.

We hear the voices of plague victims and witnesses from across Europe – priests and monks from the fourteenth century; Pepys’ account of the Great Plague of 1665; and the plague as it appears in literature and wider culture from Chaucer, Langland and Boccaccio, to Defoe and Camus.

And Laura discusses with virologist John Oxford the ways in which our cultural memories and fears of plague inform our response to contemporary emergences – particularly Ebola.

14th December 2014 at 6.45pm, BBC Radio 3.

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