Humors Comedy Criticism: Overviews - Essay

M. A. Harris (essay date 1895)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Harris, M. A. “The Origin of the Seventeenth Century Idea of Humours.” Modern Language Notes 10, no. 2 (February 1895): 44-6.

[In the following essay, Harris examines the history of the concept of humors as used by Jonson, Molière, and other seventeenth-century writers.]

Symonds, writing of Ben Jonson's time, says: “At this date humour was on everybody's lips to denote whim, oddity, conceited turn of thought, or special partiality in any person”; and again, “The word had become a mere slang term for any eccentricity.” Jonson, annoyed by the inexact popular use of the word defines it—:


(The entire section is 1550 words.)

Charles Read Baskerville (essay date 1911)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Baskerville, Charles Read. “A Study of Humours.” Bulletin of the University of Texas 178, no. 12 (April 8, 1911): 34-75.

[In the following essay, Baskerville discusses the meaning of “humors” as used by Jonson; examines Jonson's predecessors' use of the term; explores the connections between humors comedy, morality, and psychology; and considers the treatment of humors in works by John Lyly, Gabriel Harvey, Thomas Nashe, and others.]

Jonson's celebrated definition of humour has fixed the meaning of the word for us in connection with the comedy of manners. As Jonson defines the term, it is fairly inclusive and may represent almost any decided moral...

(The entire section is 17178 words.)

Mina Kerr (essay date 1912)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Kerr, Mina. “The Character of Jonson's Comedy,” “The Influence of Jonson's Comedy on That of His Immediate Contemporaries,” and “Nathaniel Field and Richard Brome in Relation to Jonson.” In Influence of Ben Jonson on English Comedy, 1598-1642, pp. 1-75. New York: Phaeton Press, 1967.

[In the following excerpts from a work originally published in 1912, Kerr outlines the distinguishing features of Jonson's comedy of humors and discusses his influence on other playwrights.]


The purpose in the present study is to follow but one of the lines along which the work of Ben Jonson affected English...

(The entire section is 22165 words.)

John C. McGalliard (essay date 1946)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: McGalliard, John C. “Chaucerian Comedy: The Merchant's Tale, Jonson, and Molière.” Philological Quarterly 25, no. 4 (October 1946): 343-70.

[In the following essay, McGalliard maintains that Chaucer's characterization in The Merchant's Tale anticipates techniques of humors comedy used by Molière.]


The Merchant's Tale is neither an allegory (despite the names of its major characters) nor a débat (notwithstanding a few passages that fit the genre) nor a psychomachy (though it includes much psychography).1 It is not, further, merely or primarily a fabliau, although the latter part of it...

(The entire section is 11524 words.)