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About this exhibit
William Shakespeare (1564–1616) created characters that are among the richest and most humanly recognizable in all of literature. Yet Shakespeare understood human personality in the terms available to his age—that of the now-discarded theory of the four bodily humors—blood, bile, melancholy, and phlegm. These four humors were thought to define peoples’ physical and mental health, and determined their personalities, as well. "And there’s the humor of it" Shakespeare and the four humorsexplores the language of the four humors that bred the core passions of anger, grief, hope, and fear—the emotions conveyed so powerfully in Shakespeare’s comedies and tragedies.
Four Bodily Humors (02:32)
Hippocrates, the Father of Medicine, based his theories on the four bodily humors: yellow bile, black bile, phlegm, and blood. The practice of bloodletting arose from his theories.
Early Psychopathology: Humors & Abdominal Organs (02:20)
Madness was once attributed to an extreme imbalance in the four physiological "humors," or bodily fluids; the abdominal organs were also suspect.