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Cholerics: the real drama queens

This year marks the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare. We previously celebrated this by looking at the four bodily humours in one post and Shakespeare’s most famous melancholic in another. Nelly Ekström now explores his choleric characters and how their temperament affects their actions.

Here are two of Shakespeare’s most famous choleric characters: Katherina and Petruchio, the tempestuous couple from The Taming of the Shrew. Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, themselves a tempestuous couple, played the leading roles in the ’67 film of the same name. Both are dressed in alarmingly bright red costumes, adding more heat to their already fiery temperaments. Continue reading

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Hamlet, the melancholic Prince of Denmark

This year marks the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare. We previously celebrated this anniversary by exploring the four bodily humours and their effect on some of Shakespeare’s most famous characters. Nelly Ekström now discusses Hamlet, arguably the most famous literary melancholic. 

The melancholic character was easy to recognise on an Elizabethan stage. Lean and pale; moving slowly; sad and brooding; perhaps suspiciously looking around for enemies. Black bile, the humour that dominated this temperament, was connected to the cold and dry element earth; to old age and all things dying and rotting. Having too much of this dark and dull substance in your body would make you as dark and dull in body and mind as the humour itself.

In Shakespeare’s comedies, like The Tempest and As You Like It, there is often a melancholic figure that acts as foil to the more optimistic leading characters. But in the tragedies they are more often the leading characters, generally elderly men. Ageing was in itself seen as a process of gradual drying of the flesh and cooling of bodily humours. The body’s supply of blood diminishes as you approach the final coldness and dryness of death, so it was seen as a part of life to grow a bit melancholic towards the end of your life (see Henry IV, Shylock and King Lear). Continue reading

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The humours in Shakespeare

On 23 April 2016 we mark the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare. One way we’re celebrating this anniversary is by exploring the four bodily humours and their effect on some of Shakespeare’s most famous characters. Nelly Ekström tells us more about the humours and how they’ve been represented in the work of the Bard of Avon. 

“Everey man humour hath his adjuct pleasure,
Wherein it finds joy above the rest”.

– William Shakespeare, sonnet 91

One of the uncountable ways Shakespeare’s work is so wonderful and relevant for us today is because of the knowledge it gives us about the world he lived in. His writing is one of the most important sources for the knowledge we have about medicine in Elizabethan and Jacobean England. His works contains a lot of information on the contemporary medical practices of the time, but also show the social history of medicine: how medicine formed a part of people’s lives and thoughts.

In Shakespeare’s time, the understanding of medicine and the human body was based on the theory of the four bodily humours. This idea dates back to ancient Greece where the body was seen more or less as a shell containing four different humours, or fluids: blood, phlegm, black bile and yellow bile. The humours affect your whole being, from your health and feelings to your looks and actions. Continue reading

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This is Halloween: Ghost

Halloween is pretty much upon us: scary films, crazy costumes and spooky stories. What’s scarier, a vampire or a zombie? Will you dress up as a witch or a werewolf? In this seriesMuriel Bailly profiles a famous Halloween monster every day this week to manifest the myths beneath the masks and make-up.

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A man is confronted by a ghost and a skeleton.

A man is confronted by a ghost and a skeleton.

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