Created By: thefran on December 26, 2011 Last Edited By: lu127 on August 21, 2012
Troped

Plague Doctor

Beak mask and longcoat.

Name Space:
Main
Page Type:
Trope

An ankle length overcoat, boots, thick gloves, a brim hat and, most importantly, a mask reminiscent of a raven's face, complete with a beak. You certainly know the costume - it has become one of the most iconic uniforms in human history. And now for the story behind it.

A plague doctor is a physician specializing on tending to those who suffered from the bubonic plague. Interestingly, the beak mask itself, dated XIV, predates the full head-to-toe protectve garment, invented in the XVI century. The explanation behind the beak mask is simple: according to the miasma theory of infection, diseases essentially transfer via the poisonous stench, and the doctors protected themselves from inhaling it by placing various herbs, flowers and other aromatic substances inside the beak. We now know that the miasma theory is false, but the costume did a good job protecting doctors from the exposure, and the mask blocked airborne infections (especially if the plants contained fitoncides), thus the plague doctor's outfit is essentially a grandfather to our modern mask-and-labcoat medical uniforms; even more so the hazmat suits.

The costume itself was associated with death (where there's plague, there's the beak doctors and also death), which has become deeply ingrained in popular culture. Thus, a plague doctor's outfit is a typical go-to creepy costume. It is also used when the setting has the Black Plague or its equivalent featured. Another common interpretation of this trope is to make the Plague Doctor spread plague instead of cure it.

For a modern equivalent see Gas Mask, Longcoat. Coat, Hat, Mask is a broader trope.

Examples:

Anime and Manga

  • In Berserk, one member of Inquisitor Mozgus' Quirky Miniboss Squad wear such a suit. He is a torturer rather than a doctor - he has to wear a suit due to a serious alergic reaction to sunlight.

Comic Books

  • Doctor Fell from Castle Waiting is a plague doctor who has been driven mad by his experiences.
  • In Spider-Man 1602, Baron Octavius (who is dying of the Black Death, and willing to go to any means to cure it) makes his first appearance flanked by plague doctors.

Literature

Tabletop Games

  • Mortasheen features a family of monsters that are avian and heavily based in appearance on the plague doctor. This being Mortasheen they spread plague.
  • A Pathfinder module features the "Queen's Physicians," who dress like this.

Video Games

  • In one of the Assassin's Creed games one of the playable characters is dresses as a Plague Doctor. Assassin's Creed II and II:Brotherhood also have NPC doctors in this costume (which is appropriate for Medici-era Italy).
  • The Wizzrobes from The Legend of Zelda occasionally sport a similar outfit.
  • Characters reminiscent of plague doctors pop up in Pathologic, as the decease spreads throughout the town.
  • In Ragnarok Online the guards of the city of Geffen have a uniform heavily based on the plague doctors, sans hat. There is, however, no plague. Note that the plague doctors' outfits in real life are themselves based on military uniforms.
  • In RuneScape there is a set of quests set in West Ardougne collectively named the Plague City Quests that live this trope to a T. You learn to love Ye Olde Worlde hazmat suits.
  • Team Fortress 2 has a misc item for the medic called the "Blighted Beak". It's not the full outfit, but only the beak.
  • Grand Apothecary Putress of World of Warcraft weaks a mask inspired by the beak mask, and is a plague-spreader. Warlocks have a similar armor set, they, however, being demonic mages, have nothing to do with plague.

Web Original

Western Animation

  • Adventure Time has Princess Bubblegum wear this in the episode "What Have You Done?". She was spraying a green gas that covered the candy kingdom in fog. Unsurprisingly, Finn and Jake got scared.

Real Life

  • There's the continued use of the decorative Medico Della Peste (Plague Doctor) mask-and-costume set in the Venetian Carnevale to this day. Many settings even only semi-based on Venice have a tendancy to trot it out, as well as the other masks (most based in the Commedia dell'Arte). For instant decadence, just add death and pretty masks.
Community Feedback Replies: 25
  • December 26, 2011
    Ryuuma
    In one of the Assassins Creed games one of the playable characters is dresses as a Plague Doctor.
  • December 26, 2011
    Koveras
    • Characters reminiscent of plague doctors pop up in Pathologic, as the decease spreads throughout the town.
  • December 26, 2011
    elwoz
    Assassins Creed II and II:Brotherhood also have NPC doctors in this costume (which is appropriate for Medici-era Italy).
  • December 26, 2011
    aurora369
    Another major factor of this outfit's effectiveness is that the long coat did a good job of preventing catching fleas and lice, which are transmitters of diseases.
  • December 26, 2011
    DragonQuestZ
    Better title. I thought it would either be this or a doctor that spreads a plague.

    Also, would you say this is basically an early attempt at a haz-mat suit?
  • December 26, 2011
    dalek955
  • December 27, 2011
    Unknown Troper
    Vdbgherh> Better title

    This title is fine as it is, but Beak Doctor will be an alt. title. Why do you want to change it?

    > a doctor that spreads a plague.

    Yes, yes, that's the point. A very common usage of this trope in fiction is that of someone spreading the plague.

    > this is basically an early attempt at a haz-mat suit?

    No way, it's not like I menti-

    "the plague doctor's outfit is essentially a grandfather to our modern mask-and-labcoat medical uniforms; even more so the hazmat suits. "
  • December 27, 2011
    Euodiachloris
    In RuneScape there is a set of quests set in West Ardougne collectively named the Plague City Quests that live this trope to a T. You learn to love Ye Olde Worlde hazmat suits.
  • December 27, 2011
    Euodiachloris
    Whoops: almost forgot... There's the continued use of the decorative Medico Della Peste (Plague Doctor) mask-and-costume set in the Venetian Carnevale to this day. Deserves mention in the main description, perhaps? Many settings even only semi-based on Venice have a tendancy to trot it out, as well as the other masks (most based in the Commedia Dell Arte). For instant decadence, just add death and pretty masks.
  • December 27, 2011
    thefran
    Ah yes, I stumbled onto the del arte masks, but forgot to mention those
  • December 27, 2011
    abk0100
    I could be wrong, but doesn't Romeo And Juliet call for one of these? It would certainly make sense in the setting.
  • December 28, 2011
    Mozgwsloiku
    In Berserk, one member of Inquisitor Mozgus' Quirky Miniboss Squad wear such a suit. He is a torturer rather than a doctor - he has to wear a suit due to a serious alergic reaction to sunlight.
  • December 28, 2011
    mdulwich
    Doctor Fell from Castle Waiting is a plague doctor who has been driven mad by his experiences.
  • December 28, 2011
    Nothingtoseehere
    In The Thief Lord, Scipio dresses like this once.
  • December 28, 2011
    Floria
    A Pathfinder module features the "Queen's Physicians," who dress like this.
  • December 29, 2011
    Abodos
    The Wizzrobes from The Legend Of Zelda occasionally sport a similar outfit.
  • December 29, 2011
    DaibhidC
    In Spider Man 1602, Baron Octavius (who is dying of the Black Death, and willing to go to any means to cure it) makes his first appearance flanked by plague doctors.
  • January 2, 2012
    ArcadesSabboth
    Right now there's a description of exactly this in the Real Life section of Robe And Wizard Hat, so if/when this gets launched be sure to delete that.
  • January 3, 2012
    phantomreader42
    The mask is an available item in Dungeons Of Dredmor. It grants relevant resistances.
  • August 18, 2012
    Feriku
    Though more popularly referred to as "bird lady," Jill Valentine in Resident Evil 5 is dressed as a plague doctor.
  • August 19, 2012
    captainsandwich
    Team Fortress 2 Medic Misc Item: Blighted Beak. [1] cloak not included.
  • August 21, 2012
    captainsandwich
    Love it so far, but I think the examples need to be organized into media categories. Also Princess Bubblegum from Adventure Time wore this in the episode "What Have You Done?"
  • August 21, 2012
    captainsandwich
    You wrote "fitoncides", I believe you meant "phytoncides".
  • August 21, 2012
    Koveras
    Just Launch It Already. Wiki Magic can do the categorizing...
  • August 21, 2012
    lu127
    Sponsor can't launch this, since he's permabanned. I'll do it.
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