Plague and Literature in Western Europe, from Giovanni Boccaccio to Albert Camus

Sha Ha


In medieval times the plague hit Europe between 1330 and 1350. The Italian novelist Giovanni Boccaccio, one of the exponents of the cultural movement of Humanism, in the introduction (proem) of his “Decameron” described the devastating effects of the ‘black plague’ on the inhabitants of the city of Florence. The pestilence returned to Western Europe in several waves, between the 16th and 17th centuries. William Shakespeare in “Romeo and Juliet” and other tragedies, and Ben Jonson in “The Alchemist” made several references to the plague, but they did not offer any realistic description of that infective disease. Some decennials later Daniel Defoe, in his “A Journal of the Plague Year” (1719), gave a detailed report about the ‘Great Plague’ which hit England in 1660, based on documents of the epoch. In more recent times, Thomas S. Eliot, composing his poem “The Waste Land” was undoubtedly influenced by the spreading of another infective disease, the so-called “Spanish flu”, which affected him and his wife in December 1918. Some decennials later, the French writer and philosopher Albert Camus, in his novel “The Plague”, symbolized with a plague epidemic the war which devastated Europe, North Africa and the Far East from 1937 to 1945, extolling a death toll of over 50 million victims. Those literary works offered a sort of solace to the lovers of literature. To recall them is the purpose of the present paper, in these years afflicted by the spreading of the Covid-19 Pandemic.


Black Death; The Great Plague; English Renaissance; Modernism; The epoch of Engagement

Full Text:



Austin, M. (2020). “Why is April “the Cruelest Month”? T. S. Eliot’s Masterpiece of Pandemic Poetry.” Medium. Accessed 13 Apr. 2020.

Bahr, A. (2018). Sex, Plague, and Resonance: Reflections on the BBC’s “Pardoner’s Tale”. In K. Coyne, and T. Pugh (Eds.). Chaucer on Screen: Absence, Presence, and Adapting the ‘Canterbury Tales’. SAC 40(17), 230-38.

Bartlett, K.R. (1992). The Civilization of the Italian Renaissance; a Source Book. Heath and Company, Lexington, D.C., U.S.A.

Boccaccio, G. (2007). The Decameron. Transl. by John Payne. The Gutenberg Project. [EBook#23700]. ‘Bradbrook, M.C. (1978). Shakespeare, the poet in his world. Weidenfeld and Nicolson.

Britannica. (2021). The Editors of Encyclopaedia. Influenza pandemic of 1918–19”. Encyclopedia Britannica,

Defoe, D. (1995). A Journal of the Plague Year. The Project Gutenberg EBook # 376, updated on April 3, 2020.

Dutton, R. (2014). The Plague and the Alchemist. In “Ben Jonson”, Chapter 8: 149-166. Routledge, London, U.K.

Kristeller, P.O. (1979). Renaissance Thought and Its Sources. Columbia University Press.

Mabillard, A. (2000). Worst Diseases in Shakespeare’s London. Shakespeare Online.

Nicholson, W. (1919). The Historical Sources of Defoe’s Journal of the Plague Year: Illustrated by Extracts from the Original Documents in the Burney Collection and Manuscript Room in the British Museum. Forgotten Books Publisher.

Plawat, S. (2020). “April is the Cruellest Month”: A Philosophical Inquiry into Humanity during the Corona Pandemic through T. S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land”. The Golden Line, A Magazine of English Literature, The Department of English Bhatter College, Dantan, India.

Potter, L. (2012). The Life of William Shakespeare: A Critical Biography. Wiley-Blackwell.

Rowse, A. L. (1971). John Stow, an historian: a commemoration address. Transactions of the London and Middlesex Archaeological Society, 23(1), 15–18.



  • There are currently no refbacks.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

2013-2023 (CC-BY) Australian International Academic Centre PTY.LTD.

International Journal of Comparative Literature and Translation Studies

You may require to add the '' domain to your e-mail 'safe list’ If you do not receive e-mail in your 'inbox'. Otherwise, you may check your 'Spam mail' or 'junk mail' folders.