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Shakespeare and the Four Humors

A Guide to accompany the traveling exhibit from the National Library of Medicine.

Elizabethan History & Medicine

The mind's inclination follows the body's temperature."The four bodily humors were part of Shakespearean cosmology, inherited from the ancient Greek philosophers Aristotle, Hippocrates, and Galen."

"Organized around the four elements of earth, water, air, and fire; the four qualities of cold, hot, moist, and dry; and the four humors, these physical qualities determined the behavior of all created things including the human body."

The Four Humors

Sanguine Attributes

Choleric Attributes

Phlegmatic Attributes

Melancholic Attributes

Greek Medicine



Engraving by Peter Paul Rubens, (S.L., 1638).

Elizabethan medicine

Elizabethan Doctor

Top 10 Things Involved in Medicine and Surgery in the Elizabethan Era, a Presi Presentation by Allison Poe

Medical Heritage Library

Medical Heritage Library logo

In Our Time - The Four Humours

Elizabethan image of doctor and patient?

National Library of Medicine's Digital Collections - Unique English Imprints, pre-1800

Illustration from Human passions delineated in above 120 figures, droll, satyrical, and humourous

Historic Texts

Minerva Brittanica

Henry Peacham, Minerva Britanna, 1612.

By permission of the Folger Shakespeare Library

Anatomy of Melancholy

Robert Burton, Anatomy of Melancholy, 1628.

Courtesy National Library of Medicine

Browse the digitized version from the National Library of Medicine.

Title Page of The Optick Glasse of Humors