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Plague Doctor

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Beak mask and longcoat.

This trope has been Launched!
Proposed By:
thefran on Dec 26th 2011 at 2:19:39 AM
Last Edited By:
lu127 on Aug 21st 2012 at 11:23:28 PM
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.

Feedback: 25 replies

Dec 26th 2011 at 2:23:08 AM

In one of the Assassins Creed games one of the playable characters is dresses as a Plague Doctor.

Dec 26th 2011 at 3:26:51 AM

  • Characters reminiscent of plague doctors pop up in Pathologic, as the decease spreads throughout the town.

Dec 26th 2011 at 5:53:33 AM

Assassins Creed II and II:Brotherhood also have NPC doctors in this costume (which is appropriate for Medici-era Italy).

Dec 26th 2011 at 9:36:09 AM

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.

Dec 26th 2011 at 11:30:14 AM

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?

Dec 27th 2011 at 12:45:48 AM

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. "

Dec 27th 2011 at 3:38:18 AM

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.

Dec 27th 2011 at 4:02:29 AM

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.

Dec 27th 2011 at 4:10:45 PM

Ah yes, I stumbled onto the del arte masks, but forgot to mention those

Dec 27th 2011 at 10:40:08 PM

I could be wrong, but doesn't Romeo And Juliet call for one of these? It would certainly make sense in the setting.

Dec 28th 2011 at 5:23:14 AM

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.

Dec 28th 2011 at 5:48:11 AM

Doctor Fell from Castle Waiting is a plague doctor who has been driven mad by his experiences.

Dec 28th 2011 at 3:44:39 PM

A Pathfinder module features the "Queen's Physicians," who dress like this.

Dec 29th 2011 at 12:35:12 PM

The Wizzrobes from The Legend Of Zelda occasionally sport a similar outfit.

Dec 29th 2011 at 2:07:46 PM

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.

Jan 2nd 2012 at 7:04:18 PM

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.

Jan 3rd 2012 at 6:23:41 PM

The mask is an available item in Dungeons Of Dredmor. It grants relevant resistances.

Aug 18th 2012 at 5:10:33 PM

Though more popularly referred to as "bird lady," Jill Valentine in Resident Evil 5 is dressed as a plague doctor.

Aug 19th 2012 at 7:21:50 PM

Team Fortress 2 Medic Misc Item: Blighted Beak. [1] cloak not included.

Aug 21st 2012 at 12:52:11 AM

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?"

Aug 21st 2012 at 12:54:50 AM

You wrote "fitoncides", I believe you meant "phytoncides".

Aug 21st 2012 at 11:23:28 PM

Sponsor can't launch this, since he's permabanned. I'll do it.

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