The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer

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Physiognomy and Humours Handout - TCT

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Excerpt From This Document

Physiognomy – a person’s physical appearance and the relationship between that physical appearance and a person’s personality and character (judging a person by his/her features).


red-headed = quick-tempered

buxom = jolly

broad forehead = intelligence, good breeding

very thin = stringy, bad-tempered

neat = proud

wearing red = aggressive

wearing black = melancholy

wearing blue = constant in love

wearing green = lightness in love, envy

gapped teeth = bold, aggressive, traveler, amorous

white neck = sign of licentiousness (promiscuousness)

Psychological Theory of Chaucer’s Time: Astrology-based. This theory gave the planets in a person’s horoscope at birth and their positions at different times in life.

Body Humors

People in Chaucer’s time believed that four body humors (or moistures) were the source of disease and personality types, much like we think of glands and genes today. The body fluids, or humors, of which man is composed—blood, phlegm, choler (bile), and melancholy (black bile) with their “qualities” of hot, cold, dry, and moist—determined character and behavior.

About this Document

This handout accompanies The Canterbury Tales Character Assignment I uploaded. It helps explain the understanding of people that Chaucer's times held (i.e., he's got a broad forehead because he's smart, or she's got gapped teeth because she's aggressive, etc.).