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Director’s Council of Public Representatives (COPR)

NIH Public Bulletin – March 2012

Shakespeare Meets Medicine in New Exhibition and Web Site

Format: Exhibition and Web Site
Institute: National Library of Medicine (NLM)

William Shakespeare created characters that are among the richest in all of literature. Yet Shakespeare understood human personality in the terms of the now-discarded theory of the four bodily humors: blood, bile, melancholy, and phlegm. These four humors were thought to define people's physical and mental health and to determine their personalities and emotional states. Carried by the bloodstream, the four humors supposedly bred the core passions of hope, anger, grief, and fear—the emotions conveyed so powerfully in Shakespeare's comedies and tragedies.

You can learn more about these themes through a new resource from NLM called "And there's the humor of it": Shakespeare and the Four Humors. The project takes several forms:

  • A special display, featuring items from NLM's historical collection and from the Folger Shakespeare Library, open to the public on the NIH campus in Bethesda, Maryland, through August 17, 2012.
  • A traveling banner exhibition, which will tour the nation.
  • An online exhibition, which can be viewed by people around the globe.

In addition, the online exhibition includes educational resources for K–12 and university educators and students.

Next Steps

You can view the online version of the exhibition and supporting materials, including educational resources, at

For a tour of the special display at NLM in Bethesda, please send an e-mail to or call (301) 594-1947. For information on booking this and other traveling exhibitions, e-mail

You can learn more about the National Library of Medicine at or about the Folger Shakespeare Library at

This page last reviewed on August 22, 2012

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