Depicting passion
in Renaissance psychologies
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The poets also differ in portraying the four humors and their passional offshoots. The diverse humoralism of Spenser, Shakespeare, and Jonson is missed if we assume humoral consistency and ignore the role of intellect and providence in managing it. Spenser controls the humors partly by figurative houses: passion is spiritualised in the House of Holiness, it is simply moderated in Alma’s Castle. Spenser views humoral passions (and the body) negatively, needing moral guidance and Christlike rescue. In contrast to his restrictive allegory of humor figures (fiery Pyrochles, watery Cymochles, airy Phaedria, earthy Mammon and Maleger), the humor-types in Shakespeare’s Henriad (melancholic Henry IV, choleric Hotspur, phlegmatic Falstaff, sanguine Hal) are spacious and flexible, gifted with self-conscious speech and witty mimicry of the others. Shakespeare’s view of humoral passions evolves into dazzlingly complex nuances and paradoxes in the tragedies and romances.

Renaissance psychologies

Spenser and Shakespeare


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