comedy of humours



  • A form of comedy based on the 'humours' or fixed personalitytraits of the characters. The genre became popular in the late 16thcentury. The best-known English examples are Ben Jonson'sEvery Man in his Humour (1598) and Every Man out of hisHumour (1599). Other English playwrights to attempt the comedyof humours included Francis Beaumont in such works as The Woman-Hater(1606), John Fletcher in The Scornful Lady (1613), and ThomasShadwell in The Sullen Lovers; or, The Impertinents (1668).

    The term 'humours' refers to the medieval belief that an individual'scharacter was determined by the proportion of four cardinal humoursor fluids in his body: blood, phlegm, choler or yellow bile, and melancholyor black bile. Hence the expressions sanguine, phlegmatic, choleric,and melancholic.