UConn Health Center Has ‘Humors’ for Few More Days

“And there the humor of it” is on display in the Stowe Library through Jan. 26. (Chris Defrancesco/UConn Health Center Photo)
NIH National Library of Medicine travelling exhibit
Jennifer Miglus of the Hartford Medical Society Historical Library describes the Shakespeare exhibit on loan from the National Library of Medicine as “a different way of looking at health.” (Chris DeFrancesco/UConn Health Center Photo)

A traveling exhibit dedicated to English playwright William Shakespeare and the once-accepted theory of the four bodily humors is concluding its stay at the University of Connecticut Health Center.

Each of the four humors—choleric, sanguine, phlegmatic, melancholic—gets its own section in “And there’s the humor if it,” developed and produced by the National Institutes of Health’s National Library of Medicine and the Folger Shakespeare Library, in Washington, D.C. It’s been on display in the Stowe Library since Dec. 15.

“The four humors represent the way doctors thought for thousands of years, and Shakespeare uses the humors in his plays,” says Jenny Miglus of the Hartford Medical Society Historical Library. “The humors were sort of embedded in everybody’s thinking. Shakespeare doesn’t call them out by name so often, but they’re really evidenced in a lot of his characters and the traits that they display.”

Earlier this month, University of Hartford humanities professor Humphrey Tonkin, a Shakespeare scholar, came to the UConn Health Center to discuss the exhibit. A crowd of about 50 heard examples of how Shakespeare used the ideas of the four humors in his plays. A video of Tonkin’s talk is available at http://mediasite.uchc.edu/mediasite41/Play/a7901a2b5a0c4190ae675512935c9b961d.

The HMS Historical Library, which moved to the UConn Health Center in 2009, has the exhibit on loan through Jan. 26. The Hartford Medical Society’s contribution to the display during its Health Center stay includes four books that go back to the 16th and 17th centuries. Shakespeare died in 1616.

“Physicians felt that if there was an imbalance in your humors that you were unhealthy, and so a lot of the treatments—the purging and bleeding—were intended to put you back in balance,” Miglus says.

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