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The prevailing view of physiology in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance (until William Harvey in the 17th century) was that the human body, and the personality of any person, was contolled by five liquids or humours in the body, such as blood, phlegm, bile, etc. Each personality was was controlled by the “humour” that dominated that person—(from which we get such terms as “phlegmatic,” “sanguine,” etc. Playwrights, especially Ben Jonson, made use of these stereotypes as characters in his plays. Every Man in His Humour (1601?) was a comedy that portrayed characters (Knowell and his son) in balance with their dominating humour; Every Man Out of His Humour (1599?. These dates are in scholarly question).was a play about the effects of being at odds with one’s natural “humour.” The plays are most well known for being a part of “The War of the Theatres” in which several contemporaries of Jonson’s (including Shakespeare and Dekker) are parodied and ridiculed.
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