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Plague Doctor Masks & Costumes

Updated on September 28, 2015
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The Most Terrifying Character Isn't From Any Film!

Plague doctors are easily one of the most horrifying visages to happen upon. This ghastly beaked-mask costume was worn by 15th century doctors who were hired to treat patients of the bubonic plague in the time of the Black Death and the Great Plague of 1665.

The plague doctor costume is fairly simple and really makes a startling impact. Read on for tips and sources for putting the costume together yourself and making a plague doctor mask this Halloween. If you don't have time or aren't crafty, it might be easier just to buy the costume already made.

In modern times the plague doctor costume has developed into the commedia dell'arte character Il Medico della Peste. Revelers dressed in the recognizable beaked-mask costume can be seen during the annual Carnival of Venice.

History of the Plague and Plague Doctors

A Venetian doctor during the time of the plague.
A Venetian doctor during the time of the plague.

The head-to-toe cloaked style of plague doctor costume was devised in 1619, though it was not worn by all doctors who treated the plague. Most of the "doctors" were unskilled and lacked any formal medical training. The rate of survival for plague doctors was rather slim.

The purpose of the costume was to prevent doctors from contracting the plague, though they frequently became infected and quarantined anyway. The beaked masks were filled with various herbs to prevent breathing in "bad air," which was believed at the time to be responsible for the spread of the disease. The doctors carried a long stick to help treat patients without actually touching them.

What Plague Doctors Did

A common treatment for plague victims was "bleeding," or draining the patient's blood. It was believed at the time that this would get rid of the disease.

What You'll Need for a Plague Doctor Costume

 
• Long black cloak.
• Large-brimmed black hat or hood.
• Neck cover (a white shirt or scarf).
• Long-nosed beak mask with glasses (see instructions in video below).
• Tall boots.
• Gloves.
• Poking stick.
• Optional: Bag of leeches and blood-letting devices to "treat" plague victims.

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.

— Popular 17th Century Poem

Plague Doctor Long-Nosed Masks

Source

Modern plague doctor masks for costuming can be made of paper mache, leather, or a variety of other materials. They can range from a simple foamcore project to intricately detailed leathercraft with filigree detailing. It's up to you depending upon how much time and money you want to spend, of course!

Some masks are white, some are black, and other are colored. All of them feature a beak-like nose and "glasses" painted over the eyes.

The real plague doctors would stuff the beaks of their masks with lavender, mint, roses, carnations, and camphor to create a sort of respirator between their noses and plague victims.

Why the Long Beak and Stick?

The long beak on plague doctor masks were stuffed with herbs to prevent the doctor's breathing in of the bad smells and air that were believed to carry the plague. The stick allowed the doctor to move patients without touching them.

Making Your Own Dr. Plague Mask

How Will You Dress Up?

Will you dress as a Plague Doctor, or is it too scary?

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Share Your Thoughts on Plague Doctors!

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    • profile image

      hotworks 5 years ago

      What a nice collection of links and information. I started making my own latex version of Plage Doctor Masks to sell on Etsy. www.hotworksgallery.com

    • cuteordeath profile image
      Author

      cuteordeath 5 years ago

      @cinefile: that's what I'm here for! ;D

    • cinefile profile image

      cinefile 5 years ago

      Well thanks for the nightmares.

    • cuteordeath profile image
      Author

      cuteordeath 5 years ago

      @milesryley: Yep, that's true! But they aren't a specific movie character, that was my point. ^^ That novel sound really cool! :D Thanks for stopping by!

    • milesryley profile image

      milesryley 5 years ago

      But the costumes may appear in a film! They're mentioned in my novel 'This Son of York', in which the plague appears in modern times.

    • JoyfulReviewer profile image

      JoyfulReviewer 6 years ago

      Thanks for the fun costume lens!