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date: 05 August 2020

Abstract and Keywords

Did Shakespeare believe in the four humours? And did he write ‘humours comedy’? To address these questions, this chapter suggests that humoral theory is intimately bound up with early modern ideas of selfhood, not merely as a metaphor, but as a literal understanding of the processes at work in cognition, emotion, and selfhood. A Midsummer Night’s Dream, in particular, is taken as a case study for how Shakespearean comedy understands the relationship between mind and body. Next, it re-examines the idea of ‘humours comedy’, arguing that we should see the true Shakespearean ‘comedy of humours’ in plays that celebrate not the fixity of identity, but its fluidity within a sentient body conceived of in terms of humours theory. The chapter takes as its closing case study The Comedy of Errors, suggesting that it, and Shakespearean comedy more generally, engages through the humours ideas of selfhood as mutable, communicable, and liquid.

Keywords: humours, psychology, emotion, soul, body, science, The Comedy of Errors, A Midsummer Night’s Dream

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