Ask A Librarian

Health Sciences Library Hosting Shakespeare Exhibit

Posted by Monte Maxwell.
August 23rd, 2012

Does heredity or diet dictate a person’s disposition? What about the amount of sleep one gets or how about the phases of the moon?

If you ask William Shakespeare, he might encourage you to watch a few of his plays to learn about how people are guided by the four humors.

Or you could stop by the WVU Health Sciences Library. The Bard’s use of ancient medical theory is the subject of a current exhibit.

The Health Sciences Library is hosting “And there’s the humor of it”: Shakespeare and The Four Humors, a National Library of Medicine (NLM) traveling exhibit through Oct. 6.  The exhibit, consisting of six free-standing banners, is on display in the Library’s lobby.

“We’re excited to bring the Shakespeare exhibit to campus. Shakespeare has a broad appeal,” said Lori Hostuttler, Health Sciences Librarian.

The four humors date back to the ancient Greeks who theorized that an individual’s health and temperament rely on the balance of four major body fluids: blood (sanquine), phlegm (phlegmatic), black bile (melancholic), and yellow bile (choleric). An excess of one humor would affect the individual’s personality.

The NLM’s website for the exhibit explains that though Shakespeare’s understanding of human personality was based on the theories of his age, he created characters that are among the richest and most humanly recognizable in all of literature.

According to NLM: “The language of the four humors pervades Shakespeare’s plays, and their influence is felt above all in a belief that emotional states are physically determined. 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.”

For more information, contact Lori Hostuttler: or 304-293-1922.

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