Sunday, April 05, 2009

Witchcraft and weather- more Little Ice Age

Chapter 5 ("A Vast Peasantry") of Brian Fagan's A Little Ice focuses on peasant life in Europe in 1300-1850, demonstrating how precarious were the lives not only of the peasantry but also the rest of society who depended on the food they labored to produce. While changes were happening in agriculture, Fagan points out that most farming was close to subsistence farming, without much of an infrastructure for distributing food throughout Europe or even storing it from year to year.

One particularly interesting bit was where Fagan discussed the very cold years of 1560 to 1600. He writes that as
climatic conditions deteriorated, a lethal mix of misfortunes descended on a growing European population. Crops failed and cattle perished by diseases caused by abnormal weather. Famine followed famine bringing epidemics in their train, bread riots and general disorder brought fear and distrust. Witchcraft accusations soared, as people accused their neighbors of fabricating bad weather...Witchcraft accusations reached a height in England and France in the severe weather years of 1587 and 1588. Almost invariably, a frenzy of prosecutions coincided with the coldest and most difficult years of the Little Ice Age, when people demanded the eradication of the witches they held responsible for their misfortunes.

In reading about this particular time period, I can't help but note that this is the time of Shakespeare's youth and early manhood, when he was working as an actor and writing his plays and poetry, with Hamlet first produced in 1600-1601.

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