And there’s the humor of it: Shakespeare and the four humors

Medicine with Reference to the Humours 

The theory of the four humours was central to the teachings of Hippocrates and Galen and latterly Avicenna and dominated western medicine until the 17th century.  Organized around Aristotle’s four elements of earth, water, air, and fire, it was believed that health relied on the balance of humours, black bile, blood, yellow bile and phlegm, together with the qualities of cold, hot, moist and dry. The display includes Hippocrates’ De Natura Hominis in which he is purported by Galen to have put forward the humoral philosophy.  The Peacham book is open to the woodcuts for Sangine and Choller and the title page of Microcosmus hypochondiracus depicts the black hellebore flower, which was a remedy for melancholy or depression. Paracelsus rejected Galen’s claim that health and disease are controlled by the “four humours” and was a pioneer in the use of chemicals and minerals in medicine.  Elzevir published Helmont’s book, which emphasises observational medicine and a newer scientific methodology.  This was a publishing family of the 16th and 17th centuries known for publishing important scientific works in a smaller format for ease of carrying and use. 

De natura ho[min]is

Author: Hippocrates, 460-375 BCE

Date: not identified

WZ240 H5

Minerva britanna. 

Author: Peacham, Henry, approximately 1576-approximately 1643

Date: 1612.

Author: Paracelsus, 1493-1541.

PR2329 P15 M5 1612

Aureoloi Philippi Theophrasti Bombasts von Hohenheim Paracelsi. Opera

Date: 1616.

WZ250 P2 1616

Ortus medicinae; id est, initia physicae inaudita

Author: Helmont, Jean Baptiste van, 1577-1644

Date: 1648.

WZ250 H46 1648

Microcosmus hypochondriacus

Author: Geiger, Malachias.

Date: 1652.

WZ 250 H6385 1668

Medicine in the Age of Shakespeare I

Medical knowledge of Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans prior to the invention of moveable type was scattered, in manuscripts, lost to general readership.  With the development of printing, rediscovered older knowledge was translated, published and disseminated and medical and scientific developments flourished.   These examples of medical texts of the time of Shakespeare demonstrate some of the significant innovations. The Anatomy of Melancholy, considered to be the first psychiatric encyclopedia that is also a work of literature; the woodcuts in The noble experyence of the vertuous handy warke of surgeri practysyd are earliest specimens of medical illustration; Harvey’s first edition changed conceptions of circulation of blood and function of the heart, veins and arteries; and Paré was pioneer in surgical techniques and other medical disciplines. 

The examples also show the irregular and slow uptake of new discoveries. For example, Harvey’s critical discovery about the circulation in the blood published in 1628 was not included in the 2nd edition of Crooke’s Mikrokosmographia in 1631 and the 8th edition of English-mans treasure; With the True anatomie of mans body published in 1633 did not adopt Vesalius’ method instead following Galenic tradition.

Anatomy of melancholy: what it is, with all the kinds causes, symptomes, prognostickes, & seuerall cures of it 

Author: Burton, Robert 1577-1640 

Date: 1632. 

PR 2223 A1 1632  

The noble experyence of the vertuous handy warke of surgeri practysyd 

Author: Brunschwig, Hieronymus ~1450-~1512 

Date: 1525. 

WZ240 B78 1525 

Exercitatio anatomica de motu cordis et sanguinis in animalibus

Author: Harvey, William, 1578-1657

Date: 1628. 

WZ250 H34 1628

English-mans treasure; With the True anatomie of mans body

Author: Vicary, Thomas, ~1490 -1561.

Date: [1633]

WZ250 V53 1633 

Workes of that famous chirurgion Ambrose Parey

Author: Paré, Ambroise, 1510-1590

Date: 1634. 

WZ2450 P28 1634

Medicine in the Age of Shakespeare 2

Vesalius revolutionized the science of anatomy and revolutionize the traditional anatomical teachings of Galen.  His De humani corpus fabrica is considered one of the greatest medical books in his and is renowned for its woodcuts of musclemen and typography. Both the Valverde and Crooke follow his tradition.  Anatomia del corpo umano, an early Spanish medical book in 1556, plagiarized the text and copied the plates from Vesalius.  Mikrokosmographia is similar to De humani corpus fabrica a it is large and amply illustrationed.  It is a compendium of current anatomical knowledge, including material from Valverde, and pubished in English in 1618.

De humani corporis fabrica libri septem

Author: Vesalius, Andreas, 1514-1564

Date: 1543 

WZ240 V38 1543

Mikrokosmographia: A description of the body of man

Author: Crooke, Helkiah, 1576-1648

Date: 1618

WZ250 C76 1618 

Anatomia del corpo umano

Author: Valverde, Juan de

Date: 1586

WZ240 V26 1586

Remedies in the age of Shakespeare

When the four fluids were out of balance, cures were designed to restore this balance. These books reflect the contrast of botanical and chemical remedies.  Herbals provide names and descriptions of plants together with their medicinal powers. Gerard’s 2nd edition is considered the most important as it corrected mistakes in the first edition and increased the number of plants to 2850. Gerard plagiarized much of this work from the Belgian botanist Dodoens, who himself borrowed Fuchs.  However, his own descriptions of localities and folklore shed light on Elizabethan England. 

Similarily, Boorde’s book, Breviarie of health wherin doth folow remedies for all manner of sicknesses and diseases this work, describes the condition of hygiene in the 16th century. Du Chesne, aka Quercetanus, attempted to introduce Paracelsus’ doctrines and substitute the Galenic physic in France with chemical remedies. In this he is representative of the state of change in the 17th century. 

Compendiaria ac succincta admodum in medendi artem, eisagōgē

Author: Fuchs, Leonhart, 1501-1566

Date: 1531

WZ240 F829 1531

Breviarie of health wherin doth folow remedies for all manner of sicknesses and diseases

Author: Boorde, Andrew, 1490?-1549. 

Date: 1575. 

WZ240 B66 1575 

The Herball; or Generall historie of plantes

Author: Gerard, John, 1545-1612.  

Date: 1633 

QK41 G3 1633