The practice of quarantine started in the fourteenth century in an effort to protect coastal cities from plague epidemics. Though considered vital in stopping the spread of disease, quarantine is also a great time to prioritize mental and physical well-being. However, if you also want to use it to be productive, you have plenty of historical role models to choose from. Here are some great thinkers and artists who used social distancing to their advantage.
- WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE
Shakespeare, an actor, and shareholder with a theatre troupe, suddenly found himself without a steady job and lots of free time, when the bubonic plague forced London theatres to close in the early 17th century. He composed King Lear, Macbeth, and Antony and Cleopatra during the period of quarantine.
- ISAAC NEWTON
A few decades after an isolated Shakespeare wrote some of his most famous plays, Isaac Newton found himself having to avoid disease in England. The young mathematician produced some of his best work during his year in quarantine, writing the papers that would become early calculus and developing his theories on optics while playing with prisms in his bedroom. This was also the time when his theory of gravity germinated.
- EDVARD MUNCH
The Scream painter Edvard Munch didn’t just witness the Spanish Flu pandemic change the world around him—he contracted the disease around the beginning of 1919. As soon as he felt physically capable, he gathered his painting supplies and began capturing his physical state. The much-acclaimed ‘Self-Portrait with the Spanish Flu’ shows him with thinning hair and a gaunt face sitting in front of his sickbed.
- ANTON CHEKHOV
Like Pushkin before him, Russian writer Anton Chekhov found time to write due to Russia’s frequent cholera epidemics. Between 1892 and 1899, Chekhov wrote some of his best-known short stories, including “Ward No. 6” and “The Black Monk.” Today, Chekhov is hailed as one of the world’s greatest short story writers.
So, chin up! Good things can come out of quarantines. You just have to find your own silver lining!