Illinois Wesleyan to Host Shakespeare’s “Four Humors” Exhibit
Sept. 13, 2016
BLOOMINGTON, Ill.— Illinois Wesleyan University’s Ames Library will host a national
traveling exhibit “And There’s the Humor of It: Shakespeare and the Four Humors.” The 6-panel exhibit will be displayed Sept. 19-Oct. 29 on the ground floor of The Ames Library, 1 Ames Plaza, Bloomington.
William Shakespeare 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. In Shakespeare’s time, these four humors
were understood to define peoples’ physical and mental health, and the humors determined
their personalities, as well. 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.
The exhibition explores the role played by the four humors in several of Shakespeare’s
most beloved plays through imagery and rare books from both the National Library of
Medicine and the Folger Shakespeare Library. The exhibit also examines more modern
interpretations of the four humors in contemporary medicine.
The exhibition was developed and produced by the National Library of Medicine, National
Institutes of Health and the Folger Shakespeare Library. Illinois Wesleyan Associate
Professor of English Mary Ann Bushman was instrumental in bringing the exhibit to
The Ames Library.
An opening reception is scheduled for Sept. 22 from 4 to 6 p.m. in The Ames Library
Beckman Auditorium. Three faculty members and a student will present brief talks on
aspects of the four humors. McFee Professor of Religion and Director of Women’s and
Gender Studies Carole Myscofski will present “Witches’ Humors and Love Magic,” and
Byron S. Tucci Professor and Professor of Hispanic Studies Carolyn Nadeau will explore
means by which health care providers in early modern Spain treated sensory ailments
brought on by injury or illness. Chair and Professor of Chemistry Rebecca Roesner
will discuss how imbalances of the four humors were invoked to describe people’s temperaments
and explain a wide variety of physical ailments. And English-writing and theatre arts
double major Jamie Kreppein ’18 will discuss the role of women in Shakespeare’s works,
specifically Hamlet’s Ophelia.
The Ames Library is open daily. For more information on the exhibit, contact Mary
Ann Bushman at 309-556-3244.