Social isolation gives us time to examine our lives in a new light, suddenly faced with economic collapse, empty streets, current panic and future uncertainty, and death appearing out of nowhere—in other words, the conditions that confronted every person on a daily basis during the lifetime of Shakespeare. What feels horribly abnormal to us was routinely normal for him and every member of the human race in the 16th century.
In statistical terms, Shakespeare is just another survivor. Unlike his son, Hamnet, who died at 11, Shakespeare didn’t die as a child, nor did his mother die giving birth to him. He also escaped the plague. Ever since the Black Death swept across the globe in the 14th century, bubonic plague remained a threat, killing on average one to three people in every house where it struck. In Shakespeare’s lifetime, there were four plague years, 1582, 1592, 1603, and 1607, when London, including its theaters, shut down because of the disease.