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Humoral Psychology in Shakespeare's Henriad Robert L. Reid A literary survey of Galenic usages between 1350 and 1700 confirms Shakespeare's and Jonson's dominion as deliberate humoralists, especially in the plays of 1597-1606: Chaucer uses "humor" 8 times, LyIy 23, Spenser 22, Shakespeare 141, Jonson 236, Donne 9, and Milton 5. Contrary to popular opinion, however , the locus classicus of humoral psychology is not the voguish humor-comedy of Chapman (1597) or Jonson (1598-99), but Shakespeare's epic Henriad, especially Part 1 (1597). We need not review (with C. R. Baskerville, Jürgen Schäfer, and James A. Riddell) the rising tide of satiric pseudo-humors between 1580 and 1630. Lyly's preening Euphuisms, Nashe's caustic satire, Jonson's fabulous grotesques, while accreting new meanings to "humor," do not treat genuine Galenism but pseudotempers : whimsical quirks, obsessions, nonsensical affectations. Only Shakespeare fully exploits humoralism's psychodynamic basis, the Empedoclean-Hippocratic-Aristotelian principle of contrariety .1 The four main figures of 1 Henry IV exemplify the Galenic temperaments with psychological depth and in complex oppositional relationship. When between 1930 and 1945 Lily B. Campbell and John W. Draper restored a humoral lens to studies of Shakespearean character, they too viewed humors reductively: not as interactive and psychologically-based, but as static, discrete, and physicallydetermined .2 Most Renaissance writers, however, would have agreed with Edmund Bunny that "the soul doth not folow, but rather doth use such temperature as the bodie hath": humors form a somatic theater for the rational soul, which may actively govern humoral flux, passively submit to its urgings, or slyly counterfeit other tempers, effecting subtle paradox in the body-soul relation.3 Equally misleading is the tradition privileging melancholy as the most psychically complex temper, accentuating the idea of humors as pathological.4 With this bias for physical determinism, 471 472Comparative Drama static disjunction, and pathology, moderns often see Renaissance humors culminating in Jonson's satiric caricatures or in Burton's brilliant but restrictive obsession with melancholy, ignoring Shakespeare's more standard Galenism which, in plays prior to Hamlet and the great tragedies, takes sanguinity as its norm.5 No one has noted the affinity between the humors and the primary passions (joy, sorrow, hope, fear), making two poles of emotivity which inform the body-soul correspondence. One cannot overemphasize this parallel between physical fluids and psychic passions. As in the masque Hymenaei, the humors and passions ultimately join in a stately dance.6 Joy and sorrow, building on sanguine and melancholy humors, are the soul's primary antipodes . Hope (with anger) and fear (with desire) spring from the choleric and phlegmatic humors to form a complementary polarity.7 These primary passions and polarities shall inform our character study. A second axiom is equally important. Humors, like passions, form an ever-changing cycle: "Underlying this static concept (that each person's humoral composition is instantly fixed at birth) is the dynamic idea of a rhythmical alteration of the fluids. These contrary perspectives must always be kept in view."8 Each person, though of one basic temper, routinely enacts the others according to time of day, of year, of life—usually in the same sequence: sanguine (morning, spring, infancy), choleric (afternoon, summer, youth), phlegmatic (evening, autumn, old age), melancholic (night, winter, senility).9 Even this motility understates the capacity for radical complexional change in Shakespearean drama: Kate's explicit conversion from choleric shrew to complacent spouse, Hamlet's implicit fall from sanguine prince to melancholy avenger.10 Moreover, a character may willfully playact other tempers, either for self-aggrandizement (Richard III, Falstaff) or for regal empathy (Prince Hal, Rosalind, Edgar)." Amid these "ever whirling wheels of change," humors display an intrinsic hierarchic order, a supremacy of blood. Following Galen and medical tradition, Sir Thomas Elyot in 1539 affirms that blood "hath preeminence over all other humours ... by reason of temperatenes in heate and moysture, . . . beinge the very treasure of lyfe. . . . The dystemperature of bloud hapneth by one of the other thre humours by the inordinate or sup[er]fluous mixture of them."12 So too in The Optick Glasse of Humors (1607) Thomas Walkington insists: this purple sanguine complexion should . . . aspire to that hie...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 471-502
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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