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NLM Announces “And There’s the Humor of it: Shakespeare and the Four Humors” Exhibit

Portrait of William Shakespeare, 1623. Courtesy Folger Shakespeare LibraryThe National Library of Medicine has announced a new resource, 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 Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC, will take several forms:

  • A special display open to the public at the National Library of Medicine in Maryland, during January 30-August 17, 2012;
  • A traveling banner exhibition, which will tour the nation and perhaps travel abroad; and
  • An online exhibition with additional resources for educators and students, developed and produced by NLM, which can be viewed by people around the globe.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) 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 Shakespeare Library. The display was translated into a traveling banner exhibition, which is available to libraries across America free of charge. With an open itinerary tour, it is very easy for a library to book the show. NLM hopes to have show bookings in as many states as possible.

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 and finest collection of Shakespeare materials. The exhibition was curated by former Folger Director Gail Kern Paster, PhD, and Professor of Medical Humanities at the University of Rochester Medical Center and Theodore Brown, PhD. The exhibition and website were designed by Riggs Ward Design.

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