Washington, DC —The National Library of Medicine, the world’s largest medical library and a component of the National Institutes of Health, has partnered with the Folger Shakespeare Library to produce a new exhibition: “And there’s the humor of it”: Shakespeare and the four humors. This unique project, featuring items from NLM’s historical collection as well as the Folger, will take several forms: a special display open to the public at NLM, on the National Institutes of Health campus in Bethesda, MD, January 30-August 17, 2012; a traveling banner exhibition; and an online exhibition, featuring educational resources developed by NLM, that which can be viewed worldwide.
“And there’s the humor of it”: Shakespeare and the four humors marks the first formal collaboration between NLM and the Folger Shakespeare Library, home to the world’s largest collection of Shakespeare materials. The exhibition is curated by former Folger Director Gail Kern Paster, PhD, and Professor of Medical Humanities at the University of Rochester Medical Center Theodore Brown, PhD.
William Shakespeare (1564–1616) 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. These four humors were thought to define people’s physical and mental health, and determined their personalities, as well.
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. “And there’s the humor of it”: Shakespeare and the four humors explores these themes in a special display featuring rare books and incunables from the collection of the National Library of Medicine and the Folger.
Through a traveling banner exhibition and website, these remarkable materials will reach audiences nationwide. In addition, education resources for K-12 educators and students, and university professors and students are included in the online adaptation of "And there’s the humor of it”: Shakespeare and the four humors.