Comedy of Humors in English Literature – Meaning & Characteristics

Comedy of Humours was introduced by Ben Jonson, in English Drama. The Comedy of Humours was the natural expression of his genius. The term ‘humour’ as used by Ben Jonson is based on an ancient physiological theory of four fluids found in the human body. According to this theory, there are four fluids in the human body that determine a man’s temperament and mental state. These four fluids are-

  • Blood,
  • Phlegm,
  • Choler (Yellow Bile); and
  • Melancholy (Black Bile)

A normal man has these four fluids in a balanced proportion. But this excess of any one of these fluids makes him abnormal and develops some kind of an oddity in temperament and behaviour and hence such a person becomes an object of fun and ridicule.

Excess of different fluids has different effects on the human-

  • The Humour of Blood makes a man excessively optimistic even without the slightest chance of hope or success.
  • Phlegm makes one excessively calm and docile.
  • Choler makes one highly ill-tempered.
  • Black Bile makes one excessively melancholy.

Ben Jonson’s comedies are called Comedies of Humour because the principal characters in all the comedies are victims of one humour or the other. For example, he uses the Comedy of Humours in his play Every Man in His Humour.