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Adeel Raza

What’s Ben Jonson’s concept of Humours? How does he apply them in his comedies?

The term ‘humour’ as used by Ben Jonson, is based on an ancient
physiological theory of four fluids found in human body. According to
this theory there are four fluids in human body which determine a
man’s temperament and mental state. These four humours are:
 BLOOD,
 PHLEGM,
 CHOLER (yellow bile), and,
 MELANCHOLY (black bile).

A normal man has these four humours in a balanced proportion. But the excess of
anyone of these humours makes him eccentric in one way or other. He becomes
abnormal and develops some kind of oddity in his temperament and behaviour and thus
becomes an object of fun and ridicule.

1. The humour of blood makes a man excessively optimistic or sanguine even
without the slightest chance of hope or success.

1

was a theory of the makeup and workings of the human body adopted by Greek and Roman physicians and philosophers. 3. The term derives from the Latin humor (more properly umor). Blood spring air liver sanguine artisan SP moist amorous Yellow summer fire gall warm & choleric idealist NF easily angered. DELIRO is an idolising husband consistently rebuffed by his wife. this genre could be compared to expressionism in that personality is allowed to shape appearance. for example. Ben Jonson explains the theory of humours in the introduction to his playEVERY MAN IN HIS HUMOUR. and this is intended to be seen as a portrait of the vices of society Humourism. Phlegm makes one excessively calm and docile. seasons. manner. 4. When properly balanced. yellow bile (choler). ASPER in EVERYMAN OUT OF HIS HUMOUR is a harsh and pitiless judge. or humouralism. and black bile (melancholy). There is a stream of satire in all Ben Jonson’s principal characters. Ben Jonson’s comedies are called Comedies of Humours because the principal characters in all his comedies are victim of one humour or the other. phlegm. and behaviour. uttering improbable boasts. Black bile makes one excessively melancholy and morbid. The four humours. To some extent. From Hippocrates onward. these humours were thought to give the individual a healthy mind in a healthy body. Choler makes one highly ill-tempered. COMEDY OF FOUR HUMOURS a dramatic genre most closely associated with the English playwright Ben Jonson from the late 16th century. sites of formation. is characterised by his decorous manners. their corresponding elements. Such drama is not naturalistic since the characters are grotesque. BOBADIL. and became the most commonly held view of the human body among European physicians until the advent of modern medical research in the nineteenth century. and resulting temperaments alongside their modern equivalents are:[5] Ancient Ancient Humour Season Element Organ Qualities Modern MBTI name characteristics warm & courageous. Roman and Islamic physicians. meaning “liquid.” and its use in the medieval and Renaissance medical theory that the human body held a balance of four liquids. or humours: blood. the humoral theory was adopted by Greek. hopeful. Adeel Raza 2. bad 2 .

"black". possibly acting on whims in an unpredictable fashion. A person described as "bilious" is mean-spirited. Often very kind and considerate. However they can be arrogant. Night. Melancholic Melancholic is the personality of an individual characterized by black bile (hence Greek μέλας. A person who is choleric is a doer and a leader. especially phlegmatic types. the season of summer (dry and hot). energy. is an adaptation of the old humor theory "choleric. They have a lot of ambition. and confident. A melancholic is also often a perfectionist. They can dominate people of other temperaments. and angry. the season of spring (wet and hot).but also can become overly pre-occupied with the tragedy and cruelty in the world. "bile"). cocky. kholé. This often results in being unsatisfied with one's own artistic or creative works and always pointing out to themselves what could and should be improved. On the negative side. they are easily angered or bad-tempered. The temperament is associated with the season of fall/autumn (dry and cold) and the element earth." The disease Cholera gained its name from choler (bile). A person who is sanguine is generally light-hearted. Adeel Raza bile bladder dry tempered despondent. 3 . funloving. a people person. thus becoming depressed. again. + χολή. and the classical element of air. a person who is a thoughtful ponderer has a melancholic disposition. melas. Many great charismatic military and political figures were cholerics. irritable cold & Phlegm winter water brain/lungs phlegmatic rational NT calm. and passion. melancholics can be highly creative – as in poetry and art . and the element of fire. and try to instill it in others. loves to entertain. and indulgent. This. being very particular about what they want and how they want it in some cases. Black bile autumn earth spleen cold & dry melancholic guardian SJ sleepless. This also describes the manic phase of a bipolar disorder. spontaneous. The humour of Sanguine is usually treated with leeches. unemotional moist Sanguine Sanguine indicates the personality of an individual with the temperament of blood. suspicious. Choleric Choleric corresponds to the fluid of yellow bile. He/She can be day-dreamy and off-task to the point of not accomplishing anything and can be impulsive.

4 . their shy personality can often inhibit enthusiasm in others and make themselves lazy and resistant to change.[citation needed] Phlegmatic A phlegmatic person is calm and unemotional. Adeel Raza This temperament describes the depressed phase of a bipolar disorder[citation needed]. However the phlegmatic is more reliable and compassionate. Like the sanguine personality. making them good administrators and diplomats. the medulla of the adrenal glands. can be associated with it. rational. these characteristics typically make the phlegmatic a more dependable friend. They are very consistent. and observant. There is no bodily fluid corresponding to black bile. While phlegmatics are generally self-content and kind. relaxed. corresponds to the season of winter (wet and cold). curious. the phlegmatic has many friends. which decomposes very rapidly after death. Phlegmatic means "pertaining to phlegm". and connotes the element of water.