Plague Doctor

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"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 phytoncides), 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.note 

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.


Examples:

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     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.
  • 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.
  • In the manga reboot of Rurouni Kenshin, Kenshin meets and befriends a doctor who wears this mask. However, the real reason for the mask is because the doctor is really a woman; she knew that many of the close-minded citizens would not believe in or listen to a female doctor. At the end of that adventure, Kenshin encourages her to reveal her face to the town. She is extremely beautiful, and soon all the guys are scrambling to be treated by her.
  • In GARO The Animation, there was a Horror spawned from a doctor which had the whole plague doctor getup.

     Comic Books 

     Film 

  • Eyes Wide Shut: One apparently influential member of the masked orgy is dressed as a plague doctor.
  • Restoration. Robert Downey, Jr.'s character is a doctor during the English Restoration. When the plague hits, he wears a plague doctor uniform to minister to the sick.
  • Solomon Kane: While on The Hero's Journey, Solomon Kane passes two plague doctors, in very accurate costumes, who are overseeing the disposal of bodies of Black Plague victims. They even eerily turns their heads in unison as they watch him pass by.
  • In the Film of the Book Dan Brown's Inferno, Robert Langdon is haunted by nightmares of an apocalyptic plague, which includes this trope.
  • Prometheus. The biosuit helmets used by the Engineers have this appearance. As they're handling a deadly alien pathogen, it's likely for Rule of Symbolism.

     Literature 

  • 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.
  • Dan Brown's Inferno. The origins of the plague doctor are discussed, and Bertrand Zobrist wears the iconic mask in his video message, and in the alteration he makes to the Map of Hell.

     Live-Action TV 

  • In the TV movie Charles II: The Power and the Passion, the king briefly visits a London devastated by the Great Plague. A number of these doctors can be seen in the background, disposing of the bodies.
  • Doctor Who. In "The Woman Who Lived", The Doctor finds a medieval plague mask in Me's library, one of the items collected over her immortal life. A Deleted Scene has Me mourning the deaths of her children from the plague. She abandons her home and encounters a man masked in this fashion, and gives him advice on how to fight the Black Death. After she's left, the doctor does a Dramatic Unmask to reveal he's The Doctor.
  • Father Brown: In "The Alchemist's Secret", the eponymous alchemist is dressed this way in the flashback that open the episode. The main suspect later hallucinates a vision of the alchemist who - when he removes his cowl and mask - turns out to be himself. It is learning of the alchemist's garb that allows Father to deduce that secret is actually a weaponized version of The Black Death.

     Professional Wrestling 

  • The Villain persona of Marty Scurll features him wearing a plague doctor's mask and umbrella as part of his ring attire.

     Tabletop Games 

  • A Pathfinder module features the "Queen's Physicians," who dress like this. They're actually causing the plague. On the Queen's command, no less!

     Video Games 

  • Assassin's Creed II and Brotherhood have NPC doctors in this costume. 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 throws bombs as a primary battle tactic and aside from the mask is an alchemist rather than a doctor. An update of the game in 2015 let you play the whole game as him.
  • Team Fortress 2 has some cosmetic items for the Medic based around the look: a plague doctor's mask called the "Blighted Beak", and the "Grimm Hatte" and "Virus Doctor" hats.
  • 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.
  • The Plague Doctor class from Darkest Dungeon. She (despite common assumption) has some medical skill, but in combat is more often found lobbing plague and acid weapons about, and is implied to be in the party mostly for science; she wants to see what effects her concoctions have on the various monstrosities of the eponymous dungeons.
  • Payday 2 has a Plague Doctor mask plus hat as a reward choice for reaching infamy level 2, along with a bonus for the Mastermind and Fugitive skill trees (the former of which includes medical skills).
  • Final Fantasy XIV features two entire, stylized plague doctor outfits (including the iconic beaked mask and top hat) as spellcaster i185 gear sets drop from the Pharos Sirius Hard Mode and St. Mocianne's Arboretum dungeons: the Plague Doctor's set (worn by healers), and the Plague Bringer's set (worn by damage-dealing spellcasters).
  • Overwatch has Reaper's "Plague Doctor" and "Nevermore" skins, which resemble a plague doctor's costume.
  • Lobotomy Corporation: One of the abnormalities you have to manage is a plague doctor who appears to have a pair of large crow wings.
  • HITMAN: Silvio Caruso keeps a collection of Renaissance-era art and antiques in his mansion, one of which is a full Plague Doctor's outfit propped up on a mannequin. Agent 47 can, of course, use it as a disguise, but it's obviously a very suspicious getup so it's mostly only useful for challenges. Wearing it while walking around in an area where people won't immediately be hostile to you, however, will cause passers-by to comment that you've been playing too much Assassin's Creed.

     Visual Novels 

  • Zero II's outfit in Zero Time Dilemma is based off of a plague doctor, although obviously more for fashion than for function, judging by the frilly cravat and butterfly pin they also adorn.

     Web Comics 

     Web Original 

  • The SCP Foundation has SCP-049. This being the Foundation, naturally he's a horrifying Deadly Doctor. He also doesn't seem to be aware that he's a Deadly Doctor, and genuinely thinks that he's helping to treat the Plague. He actually isn't a man wearing plague doctor clothes but a humanoid entity which skin and face are identitical to plague doctor's garb and mask.
  • In The Fear Mythos, one of the Fears is known as the Plague Doctor. It looks like the historical doctor, but instead of treating disease, it spreads it.
  • Reverend Mord, host of The Hidden Almanac, dresses as a plague doctor, though his job does not involve dealing with plagues. It's also been said that under the mask, he's actually a sentient swarm of beetles, but that's just a rumor. Probably.
  • French Youtube documentary channel Nota Bene (focused on history and mythology) has a 8-bit like plague doctor drawing as its logo. A more detailed one also appears in the opening title of early videos.
  • Mortasheen features a family of monsters that are avian and heavily based in appearance on the plague doctor. This being Mortasheen they spread plague.

     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.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: In "A Health of Information", the legendary pony healer Meadowbrook wore a plague doctor-like mask while calling on patients. In her time, healers are stated to have worn such masks for the explicit purpose of not catching sicknesses themselves.

     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 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.
  • The Deadly Doctor part of the trope has some credence. Based on Miasma theory, if the outside of the suit didn't smell then it was safe. Therefore a plague doctor could be unknowingly carrying around infectious material from plague victims and bringing them to patients who had less serious illnesses. Since sterilization wasn't perfected until much later, plague doctors may have been spreading the disease on some occasions.
  • The popular head-to-toe outfit with the beaked mask was invented by Charles de Lorme in the early 17th Century. The beaked mask functioned as a primitive respirator. It had two tiny holes to allow air to pass in and out. To remove odor, the mask was stuffed with aromatic chemicals. These chemicals included dried roses, caryophyllus, and ground mentha. Phytoncides were also added to disinfect breathable air. Some masks had a special sponge soaked with vinegar located at the end of the beak, serving as a filter, collecting pathogenic particulates that pass through.


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