The Four Humors: from Hippocrates to Shakespeare

Grade Levels


Academic Topics

  • Science
  • History
  • Social Studies


Students use the online exhibition, “And there’s the humor of it” Shakespeare and the four humors, to explore the ways in which the theory of the four humors from ancient Greece and Rome influenced how Shakespeare understood and wrote about the characters in his plays. They assess the dominant humor of Katharine Minola, the protagonist in The Taming of the Shrew. Students then read two contemporary articles about the mind-body connection to write a short essay about their position on the subject.

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Teachers are encouraged to preview “The World of Shakespeare’s Humors” and “Taming of the Shrew” sections of the online exhibition, as well as “Hippocrates and Rise of Rational Medicine” and “Galen” sections in the Greek Medicine online exhibition. In addition, teachers may review the following words to identify those that students may need to learn during research activities or class discussions: humor, temperament, bile, choler/choleric, melancholy/melancholic, phlegm/phlegmatic, sanguine, physiology, bloodletting, purging, dogma, cosmology, disposition, therapeutic, biochemical, psychotropic, alleviate, shrew/shrewish.

This class resource was developed by Janet Collier, Jewish Primary Day School of the Nation’s Capital, Washington, D.C Close


  1. Lesson 1

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    Students learn about Hippocrates and Galen in the context of the traditional Western medicine and humoral theory. Students also write on an exit slip their own thoughts on whether or how modern medicine considers the mind-body connection. Close

  2. Lesson 2

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    Students examine the four humors as they relate to bodily fluids and temperaments that continued as an integral part of Western medicine’s view of the mind-body connection in Shakespeare’s time, using various primary visual sources. Afterwards, students consider the current understanding of the mind-body connection by reading two articles and writing an essay where they revise and elaborate on their exit slips written during Lesson 1, Step 10. Close

Learning Outcomes

After completing this class resource, students are able to:

  • Identify at least one contribution that Hippocrates and Galen each made to early Western medicine
  • Name the four humors and a minimum of two traits associated with each humor
  • Describe how and why Shakespeare’s fictional characters reflect the four-humor theory, thus demonstrating understanding of how scientific knowledge influences understanding of the human condition and continually evolves
  • Recognize that humans continue to explore the mind-body connection in the Western medical traditions from the ancient era until today