Degree Granting Department
Sara Munson Deats, Ph.D.
Lagretta Tallent Lenker, Ph.D.
Patricia Nickinson, Ph.D.
Sanguine, Phlegmatic, Choleric, Melancholy, Ancient medicine
Hippocrates, and later Galen, hypothesized that a person's character was influenced by a combination of four humors that governed the body: black bile, phlegm, yellow bile, and blood. Centuries later, the Elizabethans adopted these ideologies to their medical practices, and associated each humor with one of four temperaments: melancholy, phlegmatic, choleric, and sanguine. References to the four temperaments may be found embedded in a number of William Shakespeare's texts, most notably Hamlet, Henry IV, Part 1, Macbeth, and Twelfth Night. While many figures in Shakespeare embody many humoral traits, allowing for character development throughout the play, several characters possess a superfluity of one particular humor. As these characters motivate the action of each respective play, the play provides textual evidence that identifies the traits associated with each temperament.
Hamlet exemplifies the melancholy temperament, Sir John Falstaff the phlegmatic temperament, Lady Macbeth the choleric temperament, and Viola the sanguine temperament. The respective personalities of these characters are revealed not only by their actions in the plays but by numerous textual allusions to each humor. In examining these four characters, the reader may become familiar with the humor that each character represents, and, in turn, possess a greater knowledge of the driving forces behind many of Shakespeare's heroes, heroines, villains, and clowns. Moreover, these examinations may also shed light on the beliefs of early modern England and the beginning of character study and development.
Scholar Commons Citation
Fahey, Caitlin Jeanne, "Altogether Governed by Humors: The Four Ancient Temperaments in Shakespeare" (2008). Graduate Theses and Dissertations.