As may be seen on picture here,
In Rome the doctors do appear,
When to their patients they are called,
In places by the plague appalled,
Their hats and cloaks, of fashion new,
Are made of oilcloth, dark of hue,
Their caps with glasses are designed,
Their bills with antidotes all lined,
That foulsome air may do no harm,
Nor cause the doctor man alarm,
The staff in hand must serve to show
Their noble trade where'er they go.
—17th century poem
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. 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 predates the full head-to-toe protective garment, invented in the fourteenth 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 full-body leather costume did a good job protecting doctors from exposure to infection, 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 to 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, the resemblance to both The Grim Reaper
and Creepy Crows
doing this effect no harm at all. It is particularly used when the setting has The Black Death
or its equivalent
featured. Another common interpretation of this trope is to make the Plague Doctor spread plague
instead of treating it.
As the costume is particularly associated with Venice
(due in part to being a popular Carnevale
costume), these guys will often show up in a City of Canals
For a modern equivalent see Gas Mask, Longcoat
. Coat, Hat, Mask
is a broader trope.
Anime & 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.
- Roujuurou "Rose" Ootoribashi, one of the Vizards from Bleach, bears a Vizard mask resembling the mask of a Plague Doctor.
- Neon Genesis Evangelion: Sachiel's face bears a strong resemblance to the carnevale mask. In the Rebuild series, it has become a trademark of almost all the Angels.
- 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.
- In The Thief Lord, Scipio dresses like this once.
- In the Deptford Mice prequel book "The Alchemist's Cat", a character uses the outfit as a disguise.
- 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.
- Assassin's Creed II and Brotherhood have NPC doctors in this costume (which is appropriate for Medici-era Italy). One of the multiplayer characters is a doctor who also happens to be a Jack the Ripoff.
- 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.
- Plague Knight from Shovel Knight has the iconic mask, but switches out the overcoat for a robe, among other things. Then again, he's also a Mad Scientist who spreads diseases as a primary battle tactic.
- 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 wears 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.
- Warlocks specialized in Affliction, however, do most of their damage by afflicting targets with various diseases and ailments as a primary means of dealing damage.
- One of the helmets you can find in Dungeons of Dredmor is a Plague Doctor's Mask. It provides minimal normal defense and a small penalty to your sight radius, but also gives substantial resistance to toxic, putrefying, and asphyxiation damage.
- The Pokémon Spritzee from Pokémon X and Y is a small pink bird who happens to be based on a plague doctor; its face resembles the iconic mask, it has the Healer ability (which lets it heal an ally's Standard Status Effects), one of its moves is Aromatherapy, and it's known as the Perfumed Pokemon.
- Path of Exile has waxed leather clothing and plague mask hats.
- 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.
- 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 tendency 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.