Views & Reviews Between the Lines

Poverty, plague, and prison

BMJ 2011; 342 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.d231 (Published 19 January 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:d231
  1. Theodore Dalrymple, writer and retired doctor

Little is known of the life of the playwright Thomas Dekker (1572-1632) except that it was dominated by poverty, plague, and prison. He spent at least seven years in prison for debt, which illustrates our moral progress: if imprisonment for debt were still the practice, half the population would be permanently incarcerated.

Dekker wrote pamphlets as well as plays, one of the best known being The Wonderfull Yeare. The year in question was 1603, that of Queen Elizabeth I’s death and James I’s accession to the throne. Of the first event Dekker wrote, “The report of her death like a thunderclap was able to kill thousands, it took away hearts from millions.”

The proclamation of the new …

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