“And there’s the humor of it”: Shakespeare and the Four Humors


Written by: Barb Mann, MLIS, Head Librarian, Reese Library

Reese Library is proud to host “And there’s the humor of it”: Shakespeare and the four humors, an exhibit developed and produced by the National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, and the Shakespeare Folger Library, curated by Gail Kern Paster, Ph.D., and Theodore Brown, Ph. D.

Through six free-standing graphic panels located on the second floor of Reese Library, the exhibit 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.

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 understood to define peoples’ physical and mental health, and determined their personality as well.

“And there’s the humor of it”: Shakespeare and the four humors will be on display from August 28 to October 7, 2017. For more information about the exhibit, visit https://www.nlm.nih.gov/exhibition/shakespeare/index.html

On October 6, 2017, from 1:00pm-2:0pm, Reese Library will be hosting a panel discussion featuring Dr. Blaire Zeiders, Assistant Professor, Department of English & Foreign Languages, Dr. Brian Armstrong, Assistant Professor, Department of Philosophy, and Dr. Soma Mukhopadhyay, Lecturer, Department of Biological Sciences, discussing the four humors from different perspectives. The presentation will be held on the second floor of Reese Library.