Masterpieces from trying times
As people around the world continue to stay indoors in efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19, many are aspiring to tackle boredom by producing a creative work. And people are sharing stories about how several well-known geniuses actually produced some of their masterpieces while in quarantine or another type of forced isolation – and some of these stories are true! Of course, as many people on the Internet are pointing out, it’s important not to feel pressured to produce the best work of your life or finally complete a lifelong goal. But maybe these accounts of notable people producing some incredible works, in situations similar to the one we’re in right now, will help provide a little bit of hope that something good could come out of this tough period.
One of the most widespread claims on the Internet right now is that Sir Isaac Newton was in isolation when he came up with his theory of gravity. And it’s accurate! In 1665, when Newton was a student at Cambridge, London was experiencing its last major epidemic of the bubonic plague. Newton retreated to Woolsthorpe Manor, an hour away, where he spent 18 months, putting his nose to the grindstone and did some serious studying. His theory of gravity found its inception there, and he also wrote some of his papers on the as-yet-undiscovered calculus.
What’s more dubious is whether his gravity epiphany was triggered by an apple falling on his head, one of the famous moments in history that didn’t actually happen.
Another claim that’s everywhere right now? The Bard himself wrote King Lear while in quarantine. While this is impossible to fully prove, it is true that Shakespeare experienced many periods of plague during his life. Unfortunately, there’s no evidence that the man himself was ever in quarantine, but throughout some of his most productive times, the city of London was shut down due to bubonic plague outbreaks. This included theatres, which, according to the Guardian, were closed en masse during Shakespeare’s most prolific decade as a writer, 1603–1613. Shakespeare reportedly wrote several poems, including “Venus” and “Adonis”, during theatre closures. And the first performance of King Lear, in late 1606, certainly did come on the heels of a London outbreak that summer.