Changing Explanations in Mind-Body Medicine is an undergraduate class resource that examines the exhibition “And there’s the humor of it” Shakespeare and the four humors for our understanding of how practicing physicians and medical scientists have, over a considerable period of time, typically explained disease and the factors which cause it. Looking selectively at Western medicine over its long history and in the most basic terms, it focuses on the recurrent ways in which biological (body-based) and psychological (mind- or emotion-based) explanations have been used to account for diseases of both the body and mind, and it challenges the common assumption that biological explanations are always better.

Changing Explanations in Mind-Body Medicine

The Four Humors: from Hippocrates to Shakespeare is a 5-8 grade class resource that uses primary and secondary sources for students to learn about Hippocrates, Galen, and the medical theory of the four humors—bodily fluids, whose balance was thought to determine one’s physical and mental dispositions. Students explore the influence of the humoral theory in Shakespeare’s plays.

The Four Humors: from Hippocrates to Shakespeare

The Melancholy Dane is a 10-12 grade class resource that deepens student’s analysis of Shakespeare’s Hamlet by learning about and applying their knowledge of the four humors rooted in Greek Medicine and used during and beyond Shakespeare’s time.

The Melancholy Dane

The influence of the humors on mental and physical health were thought to change with the seasons and times of day. Today, MedlinePlus, NLM’s consumer health information portal, provides research-based information about seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a type of depression that comes and goes with the seasons.

Seasonal Affective Disorder – MedlinePlus

According to the now-discarded theory, four humors were thought to influence people’s body and mind. Today, we know that a mood disorder affects a person's everyday emotional state. Use MedlinePlus, NLM’s consumer health information portal, to learn more.

Mood Disorders – MedlinePlus

The four bodily humors were part of Shakespearean cosmology, inherited from the ancient Greek philosophers Aristotle, Hippocrates, and Galen. Today, your vital signs show how well your body is functioning. Use MedlinePlus to learn more about vital signs.

Vital Signs – MedlinePlus

Health Information
In Shakespeare’s time, aging was a process of cooling of bodily humors. Today, libraries help older adults successfully navigate healthy aging. Librarians can use the Network of the National Library of Medicine’s downloadable discussion questions, promotional materials, and supporting health information to host book clubs around healthy aging titles.

NNLM Reading Club: Healthy Aging