News & Events

Illinois Wesleyan to Host Shakespeare’s “Four Humors” Exhibit

Exhibit logoSept. 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.