More than a third of the planet's population has been placed under lockdown after the COVID-19 outbreak was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization. The contemporary world has not experienced anything like it. However, for the human race, lockdowns due to epidemics are no new thing.
Long before scientists discovered the bacteria that caused the plague, societies used to enforce some sorts of social distancing and lockdowns in forms of bans on gatherings and events, closure of schools or businesses, etc during such outbreaks.
We can safely assume that just like us, people back then, too, got bored and underwent many negative impacts of lockdowns. Yet, some great minds actually thrived under the circumstance.
In 1665, when the Great Plague hit London, Isaac Newton was in his early 20s and was studying at Cambridge. As a precautionary measure, Cambridge sent its students home so Newton returned to his family estate - Woolsthorpe Manor in Lincolnshire.
It is in this place, during the lockdown, where Newton sat under an apple tree and conceived the law of universal gravitation. While the story of his head getting bonked by a falling apple may or may not be true, falling apples surely inspired his thoughts.
During the quarantine time, Newton also worked on some mathematical problems and wrote papers that later became the foundations of calculus. He experimented with prisms and played with light in his bedroom which helped him develop his theories on optics.
The plague ravaged London for more than a year and killed a fourth of its population. Newton returned to Cambridge in 1667 with the theories he developed. The time he spent in quarantine was later referred to as his annus mirabilis, the "year of wonders". He was made a fellow within six months of his return and a professor two years later.
The 1665 outbreak was one of the last major hits in the history of plagues in England. There are other recorded outbreaks of Bubonic Plague in various parts of the country in the previous centuries.
Earlier, like Isaac Newton, William Shakespeare, too, utilised his time in quarantine very well. There was a major plague event in London in summer 1606, which led to theatres being closed.
The world-famous playwright had witnessed quite a few plague outbreaks since his birth, and another of these had no chance of stopping him. Instead, it left time for the wordsmith to sit alone with his thoughts and pen.
Shakespeare is believed to have drafted his tragedy play - King Lear during that quarantine period. Pieces of evidence also indicate that he polished off Antony and Cleopatra and likely churned out Macbeth in isolation during the plague.
While he was working on his masterpieces, death was actually lurking behind him all the time. His landlady on London's Silver Street, Marie Mountjoy, succumbed to the illness in October 1606, which prompted the writer to vacate the premises shortly afterward.
Memes inspired by these two great men's legendary quarantine output have already swarmed the social media during ongoing social distancing. Memes are great in the sense that they can transmit messages in effective ways, but if we wish to utilise the nature-imposed downtime the way these great minds did in the 17th century, we should do more than just making and sharing memes.
It is highly advisable that those who can afford to stay at home in the most desperate of times without much worries should invest time in developing skills, reading stuff or doing things that add value to one's life. Who knows, maybe sitting at home, you will accomplish something which will make the post-COVID world a much better place to live in.