Cookbooks are rarely read as political or even narrative texts. However, alongside the recipes and lists of ingredients is often rich information about the ideologies and social structures that the foods are consumed within.
In 18 months, the "Great Pestilence" of 1348-49 killed half of England's population, and by 1351 half the population of the world. Chaucer's plague tales reveal the conservative edges of an astonishingly innovative medieval poet.
The worn trope—Time Devours All Things (tempus edax rerum)—is true for human beings, says Shakespeare: if you're a mortal, death lurks at the heart of the very thing you most want. During a plague, or a pandemic, it's wanting that endangers us.