Script-Based Questions

Spoiler Warning: This entry is contains several possible spoilers for the play!  The Dramaturg recomends reading it after seeing the production, for further elucidation, rather than before.


Page 1
Is there anything to be learned about the Plague’s affect on wildlife – referencing
that of fish in the river?
-We know that cats and dogs were slaughtered en masse by order of the King, in attempt to stem the spread of the plague.  We now know that this in fact exacerbated the problem- this allowed the rats (who carried the fleas, who were spreading the plague) to  flourish. tells us “…rock squirrel fleas are the most common source of  infection in people. In the Pacific states, California ground squirrel fleas are the most common source. Many other types of rodents — including other ground squirrels, prairie dogs, chipmunks, wood rats, wild mice, and voles — suffer plague outbreaks and are  occasional sources of human infection….Dogs rarely suffer severe illness and have yet to be shown to be sources of infection for humans.”  In conclusion- it seems fairly unlikely that the Plague would have killed fish directly: however, the massive number of decomposing bodies could very well have poisoned the water sources.

Page 2
Can we learn just a bit about the War with Dutch during this time period? Why
did it happen and how did it affect the local residents, merchants?
In 1663, Charles II cut off any British trade with the Dutch, partially because Holland was being ravaged by the plague.  This eventually became an armed conflict-  The “Second Angl-Dutch war ran between March 1665 and July 1667, with early victories for the English, despite the eventual Dutch victory.  It was fought over sea trade routes.  Towards the beginning of the war, English privateers (state-liscensed pirates) were able to sieze Dutch ships and cut off shipping lanes, eventually the Dutch regained momentum and began building warships: according to one source, 7 for every 1 ship Englan built.  However, in 1665, there was likely still good-will and excitement overt the war.

Is there anything historically for us to know about some of the references Morse refers to
in her monologue with regards to the Visitation, Sparrows, Dogs, Children
with Beards, etc?
These sound like fairly typical heralds of the Apocalypse: something that people have been absolutely sure is right around the corner for much of history.  I’ll do a little more digging, talk to a Folklorist friend, see if they ring any bells.

What are the religious points of view during this period?
The Church of England was restored during the Restoration, and the Presbyterians and Puritans lost power.  Check the “World Dramaturgy” file for more information on the Restoration Church of England.

Page 3

What was the role of guards during this time period?  Just from a general sense?
-These guards were hired specifically to watch the houses of those who had been infected.  Houses would be marked and sometimes boarded up, and watches would be placed to make sure that no one could leave for 40 days (which, interestingly enough, is where the word Quarantine comes from)

Can you speak to markings on the body that were clear indications of disease or
black death?

Plague markers, or “tokens”, were very clear—starting with red splotches, and growing in later stages to buboes- painfully swolen lymph glands, usually under the arms and around the neck, and groin.  Another occasional sympton is the apperance of lenticulae (black dots scattered throughout the body).
Page 5

What were the remedies for plague during the time period. Vinegar is mentioned.
Anything else at all?  Why Vinegar?
Strong smelling substances were thought to ward off the plague—herbs would be burned, or worn around the neck and inhaled to prevent the spread of the sickness.  I imagine vinegar was also used to clean in general—but there is frequent mention of the use of strong-smelling preventative measures that ties in nicely there.

How were goods and food affected by plague during the time period? Kabe saying
there is no butter, no cheese.  But plenty of corn.  Use of onions for consumption?

Little trade was coming in our out of London.  Butter and cheese both notably require a process to create, and must be relatively fresh- whereas corn can be stored for long periods of time.  Onions as well—in addition, strong-smelling substances were used to ward off the plague—it is entirely possible that onions were preferred for this reason.
Page 6

Snelgrave mentions being alive for 4 weeks.  What was the common time for
those infected to succumb to the disease?
The bubonic plague kills about two out of three infected patients in 2–6 days without treatment.

Kabe mentions 28 days quarantine – was that the common time period for people
to be isolated.  If so, why?
Fascinating new fact- 28 days would actually have been a “trentine”- the word quarantine comes from the Venetian dialect of Italian– “quaranta giorni” means “40 days.”  Periods between 30 and 40 days were generally used–it is unclear why, as symptoms of the plague generally appear within 2-5 days, and victims die 2-6 days later.  It is possible that this time period was established during an outbreak of a different disease, and remained unchanged as a safety precaution?  It may also have been that quarantines (clearly) did little to stop the spread of the plague, and so were expanded.

Any historical references that Kabe mentions in his “One o’clock, Two o’clock” rhyme?

Two references: the Red Crosses were painted on the doors of the houses where someone had died of the plague, to warn everyone to shun them.  “Where’s my enemy?  Flown to the county?”— the wealthy and the nobility were the first to flee to their country estates.  This is especially echoed in the later line “I’ve got the key to your locked door!”  It seems most likely that Kabe is taunting the Snelgraves, bolstered by the enmity between their classes.

Page 8

Any more we can reference as to a sailor’s life during this time period? Snelgrave
mentions using Tar to keep out water.  Cheese, bone for the buttons.  Anything
about the Royal Dockyards? (near the Axeyard, in Westminister—near Parliment)
Ships, as well as other things (bags, casks etc) were coated in tar to keep out water.  See the “World Dramaturgy” section for more information on the sailor’s life.  As for the Royal Dockyards, there were a number scattered across England and the world.  I’ll be sure to do a closer read to see if I can find which Dockyard Mr. Snellgrave works at.

Bunce’s mention of three cats and a hag? Salt beef pig? Anything to this at all?

“Cats” and “Hags” are types of ships- I’ve only found them in reference to ships that carry coal, though this could be innacurate.  Salt Beef Peg is the name of a whore Bunce has visited.

Page 9

Where is Cathay’s lake of rubies? North-west passage?
The Northwest passage is a (once theoretical) passage above Canada, allowing easy access in the north between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.  It was much sought-after, but not traversed until 1903.  An interesting fact: the Northwest passage became a viable modern shipping lane for the first time in 2009, due to the melting of the polar ice caps.   Cathay is an anglicized version of “Qìdān,” (China), though during this era usually only refers to Northern China.

Page 10

What is the ratline of a ship?  Mast? Starboard? Foremast?
The Ratlines are thin ropes stretching up a ship’s mast and rigging/shrouds, which are used as ladders by the crew.  The Mast is the large vertical spar that supports the main sails.  Starboard (and Port) are nautical terms for right and left: when facing towards the bow (front) of the ship, Port is left and starboard is right.  The foremast is the mast of a ship closest to the front of the boat on a ship with multiple masts.

What is scurvy?
Scurvy is a disease once common to sailors (and some modern college students), often caused by a lack of citrus (more specifically, Vitamin C) in one’s diet.  “Scurvy leads to the formation of spots on the skin, spongy gums, and bleeding from the mucous membranes. The spots are most abundant on the thighs and legs, and a person with the ailment looks pale, feels depressed, and is partially immobilized. In advanced scurvy there are open, suppurating wounds and loss of teeth.”  The Royal Navy’s Grog (later made famous by Hollywood Pirate movies) was the reason fewer of their sailors ended up with scurvy- Grog was rum cut with water, which was often foul to drink unless flavored with lime or lemon and sugar.  This is also why the Naval men were known as Limies.

Who were the Spanish Main Pirates?
The Spanish main was the stretch of the coastline of the Americas controlled by the Spanish: roughly the coasts of Florida, a large portion of the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, and the coast of the top end of South America.  Spainish fleets were shipping large amounts of treasure out of the Spanish main—meaning it was also ripe territory for pirates.

Can you give us a little more info on these different type of rope
Let’s do this visually:

Page 11

Where is Gravesend? What are Press Gangs?  What is a fly?

For more on press gangs, see “impressment” in “Social Strata” dramaturgy.  Shortly: the Royal Navy sent out gangs of men to “recruit” able-bodied seaman (and occasionally, landlubbers) who would be pressed into service of the navy.  Men would be brought into the service more or less forcefully: sometimes talked into it in a bar, sometimes snatched up at port or when stumbling home drunk.   In this case, “Fly” is clearly a type of ship- though it is not clear exactly what type, it seems likely that it is a smaller cargo vessel- especially if they are being openly boarded by a press gang.  Gravesend is a small town near the mouth of the Thames- famous as a point of origin for shipping and transport.

Page 14

Any info you can shed on the life of a miner during this time?
It goes without saying that mining was an awful life: it’s interesting to know, however, just how few rights miners had.  In 1597, a Scottish law made it legal to put not only criminals of various types, but also their children into life-long bondage in salt or coal mines.  By and large, a miner could not take up another profession without written permission from the mine’s owner.  While not all miners would have been serfs or convicted criminals, there was certainly a stigma attached.

Page 15

When Kabe calls for the bills, was this a common practice – what
did they consist of?
See the One Flea Spare Images file, for a number of bills—since a large section of the population could not read, the calling of any kind of bill or public document would have been common.  However, to call the bills to a group of people who can clearly read (the Snellgraves) seems needlessly cruel.

Page 17

Any further info on what a Certificate of Health was used for
and who received it?
A Certificate of Health was necessary to leave or enter a city or town.  They were often forged—large amounts of money were made by skilled forgers during this time.  I’ve found sources saying they were “required by the Lord Mayor” to leave the city, so I’m imagining it was the city government who was responsible for their distribution.

Page 25

What was the difference between a Merchant Sailor and Navy Sailor?
Obviously: a merchant sailor is employed by a private company, rather than a military force.  More interestingly–in the 1600s, the British attempted to force all seamen serving in “merchant fleets” to register with the Royal Navy, providing an easy-to-access source of ablebodied seamen.  This effort foundered, and was not truly successful until 1835.  The Merchant Navy was divided into a number of private fleets, and had a  number of nautical colleges which created a feeder-program for officers.  Largely, it seems like the key difference is that the Royal Navy is an old and closely regimented force, whereas the Merchant Navy is a loose confederation of Shipping companies, with different organizational goals (commerce vs. warfare).  They would both, however, include warships (in the case of the Merchant Navy, to defend key shipping routes and convoys.

What was the typical age for women of different classes to marry
during this time period?  What was married life like?

In the 1600s, the minimum legal age of marriage was 12 (though 14 or 15 was much more common).  I’ll put up a deeper look at married life and marriage in different classes in the Social Strata document.

Page 26

What was Tick Fever?
A disease similar in some ways to the Plague (presents flu-like symptoms, rashes).  Any fever above 104-106 degrees can cause brain damage, as the body cooks the brain—it sounds like this is what the neighbors were blaming Bunce’s wife’s disappearance on.

What was a ribbon weaver?
Exactly as it sounds- a craftsman who weaved ribbons.  It is interesting to note that this was a fairly specialized job—they had apprentices, etc.  It was, in fact, something one could make a living at.

Where is Bristol? Any other Geography we can reference in this play all
together?  Where this family lives, etc?

Bristol is in the South west of England.  In the 14th century, it was one of the largest cities in England.  It was also hit by the plague, and had been occupied by the Royalist armed forces during the Civil war.
Page 27

What are tokens?
Tokens are physical manifestations of the plague.

Page 33

The description of the monster Kabe refers to – literal or
just fantasy? Babel, Babylon, Sodom, and Gomorrah –
quick info?
It seems that the “signs” Kabe refers to are the signs of the coming apocalypse.  Babel: from the book of Genesis- the Tower of Babel was built in attempt to reach the heavens.  God saw the tower, struck it down, and scattered the people of Babel across the earth, confusing their tongues so they all spoke different languages.  This is largely agreed to be an etiological story explaining how the many languages of humanity came about.  Babylon is mentioned in the book of Revelation (along with being an ancient city-state in Mesopotamia),  and has come to mean any large and bustling city—and in Revelation, they are singled out as corrupt, sinful, and ripe for the punishment of God.  In Genesis, the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed by an angel (with fire and brimstone) for their sins (depending on one’s interpretation- either inhospitality or homosexuality).

As for the monster: deformity, especially birth deformities, were seen as a sign of evil.  This is a reference to an actual birth defect: however, it was actually a foal (baby horse), not a human child.  The condition being described is likely “cyclopia”, when the orbits of the eyes do not properly divide during the birth.  The quote reads:

“First, That it had no sign of any Nose in the usual place, nor had it any, in any other place of the Head, unless the double Bagg CC that grew out of the midst of the forehead, were some rudiment of it. Next, That the two Eyes were united into one Double Eye which was placed just in the middle of the Brow.”

Page 34

Quicksilver be hung about in a walnut shell?  Use?

Quicksilver, properly known as mercury, was once used as a medicine for all manner of sicknesses.  It is, of course, incredibly toxic.  It is also interesting in that it is the only metal which is naturally liquid at room temperature.  Thus, inside a shell, it would run and shift weight in an interesting way–making it a useful tool in a con for healing charms.

What is Kabe’s reference to Oxford for being the birth
of this monster?
While the King fled to Salisbury, Parliament went to Oxford.  Kabe is blaming the plague as a “Royalist phenomenon”- either he is mistaken as to where the King has gone, or he doesn’t care, and has painted the King and Parliament as one group—showing he does not have much of a commitment to any of the Parliamentary or Royalist  groups.

Page 35

Who does Snelgrave refer to when he says conjurers,
“mad men”?
Magicians or conjurers–anyone with a connection to the supernatural, were believed to have made a deal with the devil to gain their powers.  In this case, given his reference to Solomon Eagle, it may also have been a reference to the Quakers—anyone bucking the religious authority of the Church of England could be branded as a servant of the devil.

Who is Solomon Eagle? Fact/Fiction?

Solomon Eagle is a corruption of “Solomon Eccles”, an English composer who was mentioned in Daniel Defoe’s account of the plague:
“’I suppose the world has heard of the famous Solomon Eagle, an enthusiast. He, though not infected at all but in his head, went about denouncing of judgment upon the city in a frightful manner, sometimes quite naked, and with a pan of burning charcoal on his head. What he said, or pretended, indeed I could not learn.’”
He was a Quaker, arrested several times after the Restoration of Charles II.

Page 36

What was a Leveller?
The Levellers were a political movement during the civil wars, aligned with the Parliamentarians and Cromwell.  They were notably concentrated in London, and in the New Model Army (the Parliamentarian army).  After the execution of Charles I, they lost power within the Army and were largely pushed aside.  They supported popular sovereignty, equality before the law, extended suffrage, and religious tolerance.  The name “Leveller” came about when they levelled hedges during the Enclosure riots.  During Charles II’s reign, it would have been embarrassing or dangerous to be seen as a Leveller.

Page 42

The spotted fever?
Any number of fevers that present as rashes or welts on the skin.  They are often tick and flea-borne.  They would have shared a number of symptoms with the Black Death, and were sometimes lethal.

Act II

Jib Boom?
A jib is a triangular ‘staysail’ set ahead of the foremast.  A boom is the horizontal spar that holds the sail out.  Therefore, the Jib boom is the spar that holds the jib out.

Page 52

Battle at Tescell – more info on this?
The only reference I can find is in Pepys’ diary:

“30 April.  Lords Day.  In much trouble as to the pains I have taken about the business of Tanger.  The fleet, with 106 ships, upon the coast of Holland, within sight of the Dutch within the Tescell.  Great fears of the sicknesse here in the City, it being said that two or three houses are already shut up.  God help us all.”


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