Shop  |  Calendar  |  Join  |  Buy Tickets  |  Hamnet  |  Site Rental  |  Press Room  
About UsWhat's OnUse the CollectionDiscover ShakespeareTeach & LearnFolger InstituteSupport Us
Folger Exhibitions
• Past Exhibitions
Beyond Home Remedy

   Sign up for E-news!
   Printer Friendly

Herbal therapy

Galenic Medicines and Nose Herbs

Violets provide an instance in which early modern medicine at once differed from and anticipated current medical practice. Dominant medical thought was derived from the ancient writings of Galen (ca. 130200 C.E.), who articulated the theory of the four humors. According to this theory, an ill body contained either too much heat or cold and too much dryness or moisture. Medicines thus served to bring the body into balance. As an example, violets were described as cold and moistand were therefore used to fight fevers. The sweet scent of violets was also believed to have curative properties, as they belonged to a subset of herbs called nose-herbs,a kind of aromatherapy.

Jane Giraud. The Flowers of Shakespeare. London, 1845

Pictured above is a page from Jane Giraud's The Flowers of Shakespeare. Shakespeare and his audience would have been familiar with Galenic theory and understood many of his characters to exemplify one of the four humors. Here, it is the resonance of violets that is depicted:


“That strain again, it had a dying fall,
O, it came o’er my ear like the sweet south,
That breathes upon the bank of Violets,
Stealing and giving odour.”


These lines from the opening scene of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, in which the speaker, Duke Orsino, suffers from melancholy, express the comfort associated with the beautiful scent of violets. Significantly, the heroine of the play, and the woman he will marry at its end, is named Viola.


Rembert Dodoens. Cruydt-boeck. Leiden, 1608

Hannah Woolley. The queen-like closet, or Rich cabinet. London, 1675


Humors and Herbs

Feel-good Ophelia

Bookmark and Share   
     Copyright & Policies   |   Sitemap   |   Contact Us   |   About This Site
201 East Capitol Street, SE
Washington, DC 20003
Get directions »

Federal Tax ID #04-2103542
PublicReading Room
10am to 5pm, Monday through Saturday8:45am to 4:45pm, Monday through Friday
12pm to 5pm, Sunday9am to noon and 1pm to 4:30pm, Saturday
Main: 202 544 4600
Box Office: 202 544 7077
Fax: 202 544 4623