National Library of Medicine traveling exhibit: “And there’s the humor of it”: Shakespeare and the four humors

MGA Library NLM Shakespeare traveling exhibit

Your MGA Macon campus Library hosts the traveling exhibit, “And there’s the humor of it”: Shakespeare and the four humors, between August 28 and October 6, 2017.


This exhibition was developed and produced by the Exhibition Program at the National Library of Medicine and the Folger Shakespeare Library.


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.

The language of the four humors pervades Shakespeare’s plays and their influence is felt above all in a belief that emotional states are physically determined. Carried by the bloodstream, the four humors bred the core passions of anger, grief, hope, and fear—the emotions conveyed so powerfully in Shakespeare’s comedies and tragedies. Curator Gail Kern Paster explains “The four humors were an early typology for human personality. Shakespeare uses them, even as he transcends them, to create the vivid characters whose emotions continue to fascinate and  delight us.”


“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.

Curated by Gail Kern Paster, Ph.D. and Theodore Brown, Ph.D.

We also invite you to attend Professor Benita Muth’s lecture:

Mental and Physical Wellness: Shakespeare Style

For Shakespeare’s world, the humors of the body – blood, choler, phlegm, and melancholy – explained differences in personality, as well as mental and physical wellness. This presentation will consider how knowledge of the humors helps us understand characters such as Shylock and Antonio in The Merchant of Venice, Don John and Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing, Angelo in Measure for Measure, Hotspur in 1 Henry IV, and Lear in King Lear.


Wednesday, September 13th @ 2 p.m. in Lab 1 in the Macon campus Library

For more information please contact Felicia Haywood at 478-471-2867 or