The four humors – melancholic, phlegmatic, choleric, and sanguine – are evident in many of William Shakespeare’s plays, most notably in Macbeth. Due to supernatural occurrences, the two main characters, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, show a change in their personalities throughout the play.
In Elizabethan times, the four liquids of the body determined a person’s character. Melancholic personalities are governed by black bile. Melancholic people are usually introverted and cautious, and get caught up in tragedy in the world. Phlegmatic people are represented with phlegm. A person with a phlegmatic personality is typically relaxed, but their relaxation can transpose into laziness. Choleric personalities are identified with yellow bile. Choleric persons are ambitious and possess leader-like qualities. Sanguine personalities can be defined as having blood as the dominant humor. These people are spontaneous and charismatic. A simple change in the time of day, or season, plays a part in a person’s temperament.
“Just as the four humors consisted of two of the four qualities, hot, cold, moist, dry, Diamond places the four temperaments at 45-degree angles between each axis. Thus, sanguinity belongs between High Activity/Excitement and Approach/Pleasantness, phlegm between Approach/Pleasantness and Low Activity/Depression, melancholia between Low Activity/Depression and Withdrawal/Unpleasantness, and choler between Withdrawal/Unpleasantness and High Activity/Excitement.” (Fahey48).
Lady Macbeth changes from choleric to melancholic throughout the play. In the beginning, Lady Macbeth reads a letter written to her discussing the prophecies given to Macbeth by the three witches. At that instant, Lady shifts from a human to a pleutonic she-beast. Without the consent of her husband, Lady Macbeth is already plotting the death of Duncan. Her in cholera is coming out, and is showing her leader-like qualities. Her manipulative qualities help her accomplish the task of “hypnotizing” Macbeth to go along with her plan. “Hie thee hither, that I may pour my spirits in thine ear,” Lady Macbeth commands (I.v.25-26). Lady Macbeth, being manipulative, persuades her husband to agree with murder. In I.v.56-62, Lady Macbeth tells Macbeth:
Look like th' innocent flower,