History of Medicine
The Changing Explanations in Mind-Body Medicine module provides teachers and students with the opportunity to discuss the implications of 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.
The module consists of three units with two classes each. The first unit covers the period from Greek antiquity through the Medieval period (ca. 450 BCE to ca. 1450), the second the Early Modern period (ca. 1450 to ca. 1650), and the third the Modern period (ca. 1650 to the present). Each class includes an introduction, suggested primary and secondary source readings, and a set of discussion questions. Information about the module's author, suggested use, and academic objectives, is available online at About the Module.
Unit 1. The Classical and Medieval Inheritance provides information about the medical knowledge and key ideas that Shakespeare and his contemporaries inherited from classical and medieval authorities. Class 1 examines the biologically-focused foundational concepts and explanatory strategies of Western medicine first inscribed in the works of Hippocrates. Class 2 explores Hippocrates’ principal successor Galen among the late ancient medical writers, Galen’s departures from Hippocrates’ ideas on mind and body, and Avicenna's and Maimonides’ continuation of Galen’s approach among the medieval writers.
Class 1: Hippocratic Foundations
Class 2: Late Ancient and Medieval Medical Views of Mind and Body
Unit 2. Mind and Body in the Early Modern Period explores the ideas of medical authorities just prior to Shakespeare and during his time. Class 3 looks at the framework of medical belief and practice in the late fifteenth, sixteenth, and early seventeenth centuries and focuses on the persistence of older ways of thinking about the mind-body relationship despite certain new developments in medical science. It also examines early modern court records for the contemporary lay perspective on “insanity.” Class 4 examines Shakespeare’s own ideas and compares them to those of his contemporaries, again focusing on the mind-body theme. Although there was great general continuity between ancient, medieval, and early modern ideas on both basic human biology and strategies for explaining disease symptoms, different authors sometimes chose to emphasize the mind or the body to different degrees.
Class 3: Mind and Body in Renaissance and Early Modern Medicine
Class 4: Mind and Body in Shakespeare and his Contemporaries
Unit 3. The Modern Era focuses on the period from ca. 1650 to the present. Class 5 closely studies Rene Descartes’s innovative philosophical ideas on mind-body dualism as a challenge to the beliefs about human behavior and disease causation commonly accepted in classical, medieval, and early modern medicine. It also looks at the impact of Descartes’s ideas on medicine in the late seventeenth and eighteenth century and beyond. Class 6 explores broad themes in the development of modern medicine from ca. 1800 to the present and concentrates on the general triumph of biological approaches to both physical and mental diseases in that period. The development of modern biologically-based psychiatric therapy for mood and behavioral disorders and mental illness underscores a parallel between ideas in our own time and many of the ideas in Shakespeare’s.
Class 5: Descartes and Aftermath
Class 6: The Modern Era
Paper/Project Topics and Bibliography