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Shakespeare and the Four Humors: An Exhibit and Events - Panel Discussion

Panel Discussion on Shakespeare and the Humors - March 14, 3 pm, Gumberg Library, 5th Floor

English Department faculty members Dr. Stuart Kurland, Dr. Rebecca May, and Dr. Sarah Breckenridge Wright will discuss the humors in ancient and Renaissance worldviews, and how Shakespeare made use of them in creating his characters


The now discarded theory of the four bodily humors—blood, bile, melancholy, and phlegm— pervades the plays of William Shakespeare (1564-1616). In his time, the four humors were understood to define peoples’ physical and mental health, and determined their personality, as well. From February 12 to March 24, The Gumberg Library will have the National Library of Medicine's traveling exhibit on display in the Popular Reading Room on the 4th Floor. "And there’s the humor of it": Shakespeare and the four humors explores the role played by the four humors in several of Shakespeare’s most beloved plays through beautiful imagery and rare books from both the National Library of Medicine and the Folger Shakespeare Library, and examines more modern interpretations of the four humors in contemporary medicine.

The exhibit and events brings together two areas of life that are usually not connected in the popular imagination, medicine and the arts. The theory of the humors was used to holistically include the larger world of nature into our understanding of human action. By bringing these two aspects of life into proximity, we can examine their interplay and comment on the influences one may have on the other. While the theory of the humors was disproved long ago, we still describe personality types (“sanguine,” “melancholic,” “choleric,” “phlegmatic”) using these words describing the humoral states. Through lifelike and relatable characters we can learn much about human motivation and psychology.

Related LibGuide: Shakespeare and the Four Humors by Ted Bergfelt

Wednesday, March 14, 2018
3:00pm - 4:30pm
Curriculum Center

Event Organizer

Maureen Diana Sasso