Melancholy in As You Like ItAhead of our As You Like It Study…

Melancholy in As You Like It

Ahead
of our As You Like It Study Day on Saturday 9 June, Research Coordinator Jen Edwards puts Shakespeare’s famously melancholic
subject in context…


‘They
say you are a melancholy fellow’, says Rosalind when she encounters Jacques in
the forest, to which he replies ‘I am so: I do love it better than laughing’.
Melancholy held a curious fascination for Shakespeare: from the philosophical
Jacques to the grieving Hamlet, the ‘melancholic’ subject is one that manifests
itself a variety of forms. And, as Jacques tells us, the list is by no means
exhaustive:

I
have neither the scholar’s melancholy, which is emulation; nor the musician’s,
which is fantastical; nor the courtier’s, which is proud; nor the soldier’s,
which is ambitious; nor the lawyer’s, which is politic; nor the lady’s which is
nice; nor the lover’s, which is all these…

Melancholy
was also something that fascinated Renaissance physicians. Following the
theories of Greek philosopher and surgeon Galen, a ‘healthy’ body was
understood as one that held in balance four different fluids or ‘humours’:
blood, phlegm, black bile, and yellow bile, all of which were associated with
different seasons, parts of the body and phases of life.

image

Image: Leonhart Thurneisser, ‘The
Four Humours’ 1574.

The
balance of these humours, according to Galen, could affect how you felt: too
much yellow bile could make you choleric and angry; too much black bile could
make you melancholy. Constantly in flux, these humours were thought to alter
both physical and mental wellbeing, as well as reflecting a person’s
relationship to their environment. As the early moderns understood it,
melancholy could be caused by any number of external factors – from divine or
demonic influence, to drinking too much hot wine. In this model, the body could
be seen as being in lovely interaction with the world, but also at risk from
it.

The
seminar session on

Saturday 9 June

will explore the mysteries of (and indeed anxieties
about) the body in As You Like It and
the Renaissance world more broadly: how it could change or be changed, what
made it healthy or sick, and, crucially, whether it should be open to the world
around it, or keep a safe distance. Understanding illness as a product of
things being out of balance, this seminar considers the steps taken in

As You Like It

to see that balance is
restored.

Give
me leave
To
speak my mind, and I will through and through
Cleanse
the foul body of th’ infected world,
If
they will patiently receive my medicine…

As You Like It (Act 2, Scene 7)

Find out more about the humours, gender and As You Like It at our upcoming Study Day