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The Four Humours of the Elizabethan Age

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Mai Nguyen - Minh

on 2 September 2014

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Transcript of The Four Humours of the Elizabethan Age

The Four Humours of the Elizabethan Age
1558 to 1603
Elizabethan Age height of the English Renaissance
embracement of Ancient Greek and Roman culture and beliefs

The Four Humours
Humour (
lat.: body fluid
)(ability to make people laugh and bring them joy) stems from the belief that the fluids influence your health and emotion.
Did you know?
Medical belief that the body consisted of 4 humors
- blood, black bile, yellow bile and phlegm (with their own distinctive characteristics)
Originated around 400 BC
Hippocrates' attempt to explain body processes
200 AD summarised and further developed by Galen
Balance of humours health
Imbalance diseases and illnesses
Everyone has his unique composition
Element: Air
Organ: Heart
Age: Childhood
Temperament: Sanguine
Characteristics: cheerful, agreeable, lustful, courageous, optimistic, playful, carefree, artistic, irresponsible, corpulent

Example: Harry "Hotspur" Percy in Henry IV

Black Bile
Element: Earth
Organ: Spleen
Age: Old Age
Temperament: Melancholic
Characteristics: introspective, morose, sleepless, irritable, quiet, analytical, serious, sallow

Example: Hamlet (
"What a piece of work is a man … and yet to me, what is this quintessence of dust?”
Hamlet; Act II, Scene 2)
Yellow Bile
Element: Fire
Organ: Liver
Age: Adolescence
Temperament: Choleric
Characteristics: ambitious, leader-like, proud, restless, short-tempered, red-haired

Example: Lady Macbeth in Macbeth
Element: Water
Organ: Brain (or others)
Age: Maturity
Temperament: Phlegmatic
Characteristics: calm, thoughtful, patient, peaceful, sluggish, pale, lazy

Example: Queen Hermione in A Winter's Tale
They define peoples' physical and mental health, as well as personalities and looks.
The language of the four humors pervades Shakespeare's plays.
"Yet who would have thought / the old man to have had so much blood in him." (Macbeth; Act V, Scene 1) Blood refers to Duncan's sanguine, joyful personality.

The Significance of Humours in Shakespeare's plays
Did you know?
Medieval practices like bleeding (Aderlass) are based on humourism. Excess blood had to be bled out to restore the humoral balance.
Elizabethan Medical Beliefs
Liver: great blood-forming nutrition-giving organ from which the four humours originate
Heart: centre and seat of life and all emotions
Brain: seat of reason, memory, and imagination

These are the most important organs and therefore their fluids affect the health and mental well-being of each individual.
Did you know?
Food was thought to be an important aspect in the cure of the patient.
Wine (a choleric drink) was used to treat a phlegmatic person to create the humoral balance.
The humourism model is outdated and not true; however before 1800 AD it was the prevailing doctrine and remnants of its influence can still be found today.
In literature the model can be used get a better understanding of characters.
Thank you for your attention

Feedback is appreciated
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