In the Wake of the Plague - Black Death Essay

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Norman F. Cantor, In the Wake of the Plague (New York: Harper Collins First Perennial edition, 2001) examines how the bubonic plague, or Black Death, affected Europe in the fourteenth century. Cantor recounts specific events in the time leading up to the plague, during the plague, and in the aftermath of the plague. He wrote the book to relate the experiences of victims and survivors and to illustrate the impact that the plague had on the government, families, religion, the social structure, and art.
To illustrate some of the political upheaval due to the Black Death, a good example Cantor uses is the story of the Plantagenets. If the Black Death had not killed so many peasants who made up the army, the Plantagenets may have become
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207). The Lollards were able to set up their own churches, which were "too democratic and revolutionary for irate royal officers and courtiers" (p. 207). The Lollards were one of the first groups to question the authority of the Church since the fifth century.
Another religious group, a group of monks and fanatics called the flagellants who believed that the plague was caused by human sin. The flagellants traveled around, whipping each other and the bishops encouraged others to persecute them, taking some of the heat off the Jews (p. 157). Jews had been persecuted before, but the story that Jews had poisoned the water supply became a reason to annihilate them. In Strasbourg in 1349, 900 Jewish residents were burned and the rest were banned from the city. Similar killings took place in at least fifteen other German and Swiss towns. It was suspected that blaming Jews for the plague was a smokescreen to avoid paying debts to the Jews (p. 156-157).
Cantor also goes into detail regarding the impact that the Black Death had on art. The art historian Millard Meiss thought that Italian painting was more religious after the Black Death (p. 208). According to many art historians, there was more death imagery in late medieval art and literature (p. 212). The book has eight pages of examples of this type of art, as well as quotations from stories and poems written during the Black Death.
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