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During the Renaissance, philosophers became more and more interested in the working of the mind--epistemology and theology were the forerunners of modern psychology: the argument from analogy was in full force. The sources for this material will vary, and we will begin with a classical orientation using Plato. The Dialogues will be Phaedrus and Ion:


Plato speaks of four kinds of madness that may be appropriate for Shakespeare:

Premise : " reality the greatest blessings come by way of madness, indeed of madness that is heaven sent."

Type I: Prophecy: "It was when they were mad that...Delphi...achieved so much for which both states and individuals in Greece are thankful. When sane they did little or was because they held madness to be a valuable gift when due to divine dispensation that they named that art as they did...manic." [example, recall Oedipus.)

Type II: Divine Healing: "...when grievous maladies and afflictions have beset certain families by reason of some ancient sin, madness has appeared among them, and breaking out into prophecy has secured relief by finding the means thereto, namely by recourse to prayer and worship, and in consequence thereof rites and means of purification were established, and the sufferer was brought out of danger, alike and for the future. Thus did madness secure, for him that was maddened aright and possessed, deliverance from his troubles."

Type III: Love: " is not a thing sent from heaven form the advantage both of lover and beloved....this sort of madness is a gift of the gods, fraught with the highest bliss. [example: recall the kinds of images Plato uses in the Republic to describe the PK (When he that loves beauty is touched by such madness, he is called a lover) ]

Type IV: Poetic: "...there is a form of possession or madness, of which the muses are the source. This seizes a tender, virgin soul and stimulates it to rapt passionate expression, especially in Iyric poetry, glorifying the countless mighty deeds of ancient times [called ?] for the instruction of posterity. But if any man come to the gates of poetry without the madness of the muses, persuaded that skill alone will make him a good poet, then shall he and is works of sanity with him be brought to nought by the poetry of madness..." (from ION) "...for the craft of poetry is light and winged and holy, and he is not capable of poetry until he is inspired by the gods and out of his mind and there is no reason in him, Until he gets into this state, any man is powerless to produce poetry and to prophesy. They write [about] Homer, by divine gift...the poets are nothing by the interpreters of the gods, each one under the influence of the divinity..."


Lovers and madman have such seething brains,
Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend
More than cool reason ever comprehends.
The lunatic, the lover and the poet
Are of imagination all compact:
One sees more devils than vast hell could hold,
That is, the madman: the lover, all as frantic,
Sees Helen's beauty in a brow of Egypt:
The poet's eye in a fine frenzy rolling,
Doth glance from heaven to earth , from heaven to earth,
And as the imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet's pen
Turns and shapes them and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.
Such tricks hath strong imagination,
That, if it would but apprehend some joy,
Or in the night, imagining some fear,
How easy is a bush supposed a bear."
But all the story of the night told over,
And all their minds transfigured so together,
More witnesseth than fancy's images
And grows to something of great constancy..."

Modern Application:

Poetic madness and modern psychology. schizophrenia (splitting of the mind)

1. disordered thinking--lack of coherence--thought patterns shift
2. delusions--false beliefs--fear of being spied on
3. hallucinations--hear voices, see non-existent things, get commands
4. emotional behavior--inappropriate changes in mood, dressing in a bizarre fashion, talking incoherently

[Note; medical science does not associate this illness with the common perception of multiple-personality disorder. Schizophrenia is characterized by distortions in perceptions and feelings, and relationships with the world around them..]

bipolar disorder (manic-depressive)


1. increased energy inappropriate elation increased sex
2. dangerous high-risk activities incoherent speech disconnected thought 3. irritable feeling all- powerful paranoia rage denial hallucinations (believing to be in touch with aliens, God, )

Depressive :

1. sleeping excessive crying thoughts of death or suicide
2. loss of interest in pleasurable activities inability to concentrate
3. feelings of despair slowed thinking

Robert Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy considered one of the definitive Renaissance texts on the subject will be studied next: Note that the chain of being idea exists "within" the body:


The four humors were considered important in determining how an individual thought. Corresponding to the elements, as noted earlier, these humors were properties of matter as they existed in the body. The descriptions below indicate the positive and negative effects of these humors. Conventional moral and psychological wisdom dictated that they had to be kept in perfect balance by reason in harmony with God's will, but the ideas discussed herein, especially demoniac possession and political ambition, suggest that one humor could "dominate" the rest, thereby causing illness, leading to insanity, murder and death. Although a contemporary audience need not become too immersed in these particulars to appreciate the universality of Shakespeare, a knowledge of how he understood the human mind to operate contributes not only to an understanding of the plays, but also -- and this is most remarkable -- how he transcended the jargon of the day and dramatized psychological truths that experts from Freud to the present are only just discovering to be true.

Characteristics of the humors:

NOTE: There are many sources that describe the humors. If you are working, for example, on a term paper topic dealing with Renaissance psychology, it is not sufficient to cite this page since it is only a summary. You will have to consult primary source materials from which this information is derived. See:

Burton, Robert. Anatomy of Melancholy.

Bright, T. Treatise of Melancholy

Choleric: Positive qualities-determination, self-discipline, decisiveness, ability to take risks, The ability to organize others to action, capacity to stay at something until finished, In short, the choleric temperament is geared toward leadership, Negative qualities--impetuosity, bad temper, pride, the tendency to bully others in order to get the job done, the tendency to use others, The secret of maturity is to learn to regard people as just as important as the job to be done. The choleric will be immature as long as he considers a given task to be more important than those involved.

Sanguine: Positive qualities-friendliness, warmth, wit, sensitivity to others,appreciation for beauty, vitality, capacity to bounce back with a joke and a smile. Sanguines are geared for work with people--as salesmen, entertainers or counselors.Many artists and musicians are Sanguine. Negative qualities-Tendency to be superficial, to shy away from hard work or from something that requires a great deal of perseverance, a tendency to be moody and easily discouraged,a tendency to be easily hurt by rejection, over-concern by such externals as dress and appearance. This person will be mature to the degree that he or she learns to live by intellect as well as feelings and avoids the temptation to take the easy way out of a tough situation by a laugh and a joke rather than facing it honestly.

Melancholic: Positive qualities-an ability to concentrate, to feel deeply, to go to the heart of things, to stay something a long time, to remain calm in adversity, to be peaceful, Usually the melancholic is above average in intelligence. The melancholic is often scholarly type who enjoys working with ideas more than with people. In many ways he or she is the opposite of the sanguine, Most great philosophers and poets had, to a large degree, this temperament. Negative qualities-a tendency to moodiness and depression excessive shyness, the ability to harbor grudges for a long time, to brood, to become-intellectually proud and to regard others as inferior. The mature melancholic has been able to direct his capacity for deep feeling and deep thinking toward the service of others instead of using it to feed the ego.

Phlegmatic: Positive qualities-loyalty, the ability to stay at boring tasks, gentleness and warmth, a generally calm, easy going disposition, The phlegmatic makes a good follower and helper and can work well in duties that require a lot of routine, Negative qualities-a. strong tendency toward laziness,. at his worst, the phlegmatic could become something of a vegetable, content to eat and sleep and let the rest of the world go by. Maturity depends to a large degree on the ability to combine his temperament with some of the positive qualities of the other temperaments, If one remained a pure phlegmatic, it is doubtful that he or she would reach full maturity.



(Brain) = "Counselor to heart" [AS] HEAD (soul/wisdom) reason:

(Heart) = "King keeping court" [AS] CHEST (king of the body) seat of passion

(Liver- spleen) = "Nourishment" [AS] BELLY (choleric [anger] melancholic)


SOUL: = generic word meaning element of life = heat. We need to speak of three "Souls" noting how they determine human behavior. There are different "kinds" of souls presented here from the least to the most important:

1. The VEGETAL SOUL is common to plants, and simply denotes that plants are alive, but lower, of course, than man and animals on the chain. They have "heat" and can grow.

2. The SENSITIVE SOUL is common to animals and has an APPREHENDING power and a MOVING power:

A. APPREHENDING power allows the organism to perceive reality in the nominalistic sense. It has two modes: INWARD and OUTWARD.

B. MOVING (appetite) power. These appetites are partly involuntary and partly voluntary. It is with the voluntary appetites in man that trouble can begin if they are not kept under control. Their misuse causes man to "fall" on the chain of being and become "animal" like. (Please recall the Troilus and Cressida passage cited earlier.)There are three kinds of appetites the first two of which doctors today would call involuntary. It is the third type, VOLUNTARY, that concerns the moral actions of man and are most important for our purposes. The failure to control these appetites leads to the kinds of tragedy experienced by Hamlet, Macbeth, Othello and Lear:

3.The RATIONAL SOUL (Common to man, and subsumes all the powers of the other "souls")

A. Understanding---rational judging and reflecting and apprehending power
B. Will---rational moving power

In the mind there is an:

ACTIVE POWER---called WIT (critical thinking)
PASSIVE POWER--called UNDERSTANDING. Burton used the following analogy:


Explanation and examples of the terms [how we think...]

Will is the rational moving power and it acts on knowledge from understanding and wit in order to make proper choices. In Medieval and Renaissance psychology, WIT / WILL could be corrupted by:

passion over reason --- humors out of balance --- original sin --- appetites --- control of the devil --- sinful habits...

If this happens, bad choices result and the animal-like appetites (the moving power of the sensitive soul) take over. Recall the ending of the Troilus and Cressida passage.


An object exists in the nominalistic world, for example a flower:

The flower is examined by UNDERSTANDING (common sense; fancy; memory) which helps to separate the truth from the false. Note that FANCY is an important term. that will later become associated with imagination [to be covered in the Sidney section]. Understanding in turn is checked by WIT, which purges error from understanding. If this process operates correctly, then on a simple level, we know that a tree is a tree and not a flower, but on the moral level. we keep our passions under control and make proper decisions.

Failure of this process can cause insanity or madness, especially if the MELANCHOLIC humor dominates the other three. This "psychological" type became a favorite in the Renaissance. Causes of madness:

fall of man --- lust the devil --- passions --- humor imbalance --- God's punishment --- excessive imagination --- lack of self-knowledge...


What does Hamlet mean when he says "MY WIT IS DISEASED?"

What is meant when King Lear's daughters observe of him: "He has ever but slenderly known himself."


The following GLOSSARY highlights key ideas from the various disciplines that helped to develop Renaissance Psychology. These include: theology, medicine, science. and morality:

INTELLIGENCE----an intuitive grasp of the truth, understanding and knowing that could involve faith if knowledge of God were the goal.

REASON-----The ability to use mental processes to learn--a step by step process from one truth to another. Shows influence of classical philosophy, Plato's dialectic and Christianity--we need God to do this right. - .-caused passions to cloud man's ability to reason. Our wit is diseased, and we are prone to error. Passions can interfere with reason. Recall the allegory of Adam (higher reason) and Eve (lower reason).

ORIGINAL SIN NATURE---Medieval: created by God, controlled by God and subject to the direction of God. Man must learn to live in harmony with nature by making proper choices. We are out of harmony with nature if we sin. In the Medieval period, fortune was seen as God's link between man and nature. In the Renaissance as nominalism becomes more important, and the spirit of scientific inquiry begins to unfold, nature is seen as discoverable by man through more reason and less faith--recall Bacon. God is there. but His influence is a little less. This spirit was accelerated by the "scientific method" that suggests man has an infinite potential; the idea will eventually shake the notion of order and degree in the universe and the chain of being.


Sixteenth and Seventeenth Century Science began from the philosophical concepts we have been discussing:


Modern science was founded by the men of the Renaissance. The Renaissance began in Italy, moved to France, Holland and saw its greatest achievements in England. These countries all played major role in the advancement of science as well as the other areas of Renaissance development. Germany contributed very little because of the religious overtones of the thirty years' war and the single-minded baronies devoted to conquering one another. Spain was cursed by the religious fanaticism of the Inquisition and as such contributed essentially nothing to the Renaissance.

There were three things which advanced the learning process 'and marked the end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of modern times.

1. The invention of the printing press in 1454 by Johannes Gutenberg (which also coincides with the end of Hundred Years War - which actually took 116 years - between the French and the English). The printing press made possible the wide distribution of printed matter - books and such - a viable fact. Books which had formerly been in rare number suddenly became much more accessible to the learned public through libraries.

2. The fall of the Byzantine Empire with the fall of Constantinople in 1453 caused the scholars to flee from the Turks. They brought the Greek letters and the ancient sciences with them. These very ancient sciences provided a starting ground for the advancement of modern science.

3. The discovery of the new world in 1492 by Columbus was the last push into the Renaissance. The concept of a round earth was not a new one. In 240 BC, Eratosthenes estimated the circumference of the earth to be 25,000 miles. He was correct, but Ptolemy in 140 AD thought the earth was much smaller, and Marco Polo led people to believe that Asia was much farther east. These two later people caused Columbus to believe he only needed to travel 3000 miles to Asia. Portugal thought the earth was more to the size of Eretoethenes' estimation and supported Diaz's effort to sail around Africa. However, because Spain felt secure on the battle fronts with the ousting of the Muslim from Granada in early 1492 and the Inquisition causing the expulsion of the Jews into Poland and the more sophisticated Muslim world, Ferdinand and Isabella decided to give a minimal financial backing to Columbus. This discovery of the new continent helped to eliminate this notion that the ancient thinkers knew everything and had solved all possible problems. Europeans finally felt beyond the ancients because of this.

To go back to what caused the Renaissance we need to look at what started it all. The decline of Rome marked the beginning of the "dark age." A full thousand years of cultural darkness and stagnation saw classical art succumb to religious symbolism and the humane letters fall before the rude vulgarity of the religious scholastics. As the emergence from the dark ages began in the fourteenth century, the humanists sought the restoration of the ancient literary and artistic forms. The return to antiquity was seen as marking the beginning of a new age. The goals were classicism in literature and the arts, educational reform and a purification of religion through a return to the primitive origins. It was in this era that Marco Polo visited the Far East with its technological advances. Spinning wheels made their way from India to Europe and the Long bow was developed by the Welsh and exported to the English who saw great value in it. This ended up leading the Hundred Years' War.

By the fifteenth century, however, the Age of Realism in art was coming of age and the Italian painters Bought to make their canvases three dimensional. This led to the idea of perspective in art which in turn led to projective geometry which is the study 'of shadows cast by geometric figures. This progression over four centuries marked the foundation of modern geometry. But by the end of the fifteenth century and into the beginning of the sixteenth century, there was an attempt to see a connection between the return to the ancient sources and the reformation of Christianity. This is exemplified by Johann Muller who charted the path of a comet for the first time. The German astronomer returned to the ancients by his self-chosen Latin name, Regiomontanus, and yet it also marked the beginning of rationalism with respect to the feared and mystical solar bodies known as comets. The reformation of Christianity culminated in 1517 with the 95 theses nailed on a church door by the German monk, Martin Luther This nation of rebirth was enlarged to include the revival of Platonic philosophy as an alternative to the scholasticism of Aristotle.

It was into this self-centered world that Copernicus was born in 1473. The religious continued to claim that man and the earth were the center of the universe. Copernicus held the different view that the sun was at the center of the universe. This was in line with a speculation made back in 280 BC by the Greek Aristarchus. Copernicus hesitated to publish his theory and computations because he knew that the geocentric theory was held by the Church to be in complete accordance with the Bible. He was afraid of creating a controversy. However, under much coercion from his colleagues, the book was published with a dedication to Pope Paul III. The Church immediately put the book on the Index, and it remained there until 1835. In spite of this action and its condemnation by the Lutherans, the book was widely circulated in the scientific communities. The printing press was exerting its influence. It took more than 50 years for the theory to become completely accepted, but it did much to modify the theory that the ancients knew it all.

This revolution of thought was not just in the physical sciences. At the same time that Copernicus was observing and calculating, there was an anatomist by the name of Vesalius also observing. He was also contradicting the Greek notion of anatomy by trusting hie eyes and not the words of the ancients. He not only published his research, but also had it illustrated very carefully. The scientists were beginning to take note of the world around them.

The seventeenth century saw radical transformations of scientific ideas. This was truly the turning point in the history of civilization. By the end of the sixteenth century, technological developments were making such rapid advancements that the ideological Greek theories were failing at an even faster rate.

Galileo lived in this time frame. Because of the advancements, he was able to actually test his theories of falling bodies. He then extrapolated his observations and theories to the heavenly bodies. He came to realize that angels were not needed to give continual pushes to the planets to keep them moving. This so inflamed the Church that he was kept under house arrest for the last eight years of his life until he rescinded his theories publicly. However, by the end of his life, others were noting his theories were correct and the Church was wrong. This marked a breech between science and religion that was never again to be healed. History has since credited Galileo as being the founder of experimental science.

As the seventeenth century started the heavens were continuing to be investigated even more critically than before. The orbits of the planets had been accepted to be simple circular orbits. Copernician assumed that they were circular, but Tycho Brahe, a rich young Dane, made incredibly careful and accurate measurements of the planets, particularly Mars. He found that the planets did not move in circles around the earth as did the moon and sun, but instead periodically retrogressed and moved backwards. This fact and Copernicus' theories were noted by a young German named Kepler who began trying to make the measurements fit into the perfect geometric shapes. He eventually found that the data makes the formulas and not vice-versa. From that knowledge and the realization that the orbits are actually ellipses, he formulated his two Laws of Planetary Motion.

Just as Vesalius was a pioneer in the field of medicine in the sixteenth century, William Harvey took up the role in the seventeenth century. Vesalius could not find the connectors to and from the chambers of the heart which he diagramed accurately. It was this area that Harvey undertook. He studied animals and noted that blood flowed in only one direction unlike air which went up and down the windpipe. He drew a reasonably accurate diagram of the circulatory system based on his animal studies and proved to be one of the first great medical experimenters.

As the seventeenth century humanists searched for a new attitude toward the past, they came to believe that what was actually needed was a repudiation of antiquity and a radical redirection of philosophical and scientific activity. The new philosophy creators saw it as a novel conception of reality and philosophical enterprise. To this end Francis Bacon published his "Novum Organum". He saw it as an untried and unknown method of inductive reasoning with which to investigate and not as an alternative to medieval scholasticism's deductive reasoning. Today this is known as the Scientific Method. It is the way in which all scientific research is approached.

By the use of this scientific method the Flemish physician Helmont sought to define more correctly what the Greeks had called the vapors. These vapors were any kind of air, which was one of the four elements which made of the earth according to Aristotle. He noted that there were different airs just as there were different liquids and different solids. He called the various airs gas - an abbreviation of the word "chaos". As the definitions improved, so did the sophistication of the equipment produced. Torricelli worked under the direction of Galileo who urged him to investigate pumping problems in the mines. Torricelli then proceeded to produce the very first vacuum and in the end the first barometer. From that invention came the investigation of pressure, volume, quantity, and temperature of gasses as well as their intrinsic nature, and identity. Because of Helmot's definitions and Torricelli's inventions, the chemical elements, as they were defined, needed a reappraisal. The four elements-- earth, wind, fire and air, on the universal scale, the four humors on the human scale, and the heavenly body element, aether, as defined by Aristotle were finally being discarded. With that redefinition the alchemists were also being discarded, and the age of the chemist began.

An English physicist and chemist named Robert Boyle is credited with changing the name from alchemist to chemist and as such displaced medievalism. He separated chemistry from medicine and pushed experimental science to the forefront. The experiments with gasses provided scientists of the day with some tangible evidence that atoms actually existed. The full acceptance of that theory took another century and another man, John Dalton, to be totally realized.

Galileo's work was widely distributed by the mid-seventeenth century, and it was at that time that his theories and minor experiments were put to the test by the young English scientist, Isaac Newton. He looked at the world and began testing it. As a result of his efforts, light and color were initially defined and related. Kepler's laws were fully examined with Galileo's predictions, and the Universal Law of Gravitation, gravity and Newton's three Laws along with math and calculus, to explain them emerged.

By the end of the seventeenth century, microscopes were refined, organisms studied, light's speed measured, planes investigated individually, the, earth measured and weighed; scientists began to make giant strides forward.

More progress was made in those two hundred and fifty years than in the two thousand years prior. More was still to come, but it all was built upon the work of a few curious men who would not be encumbered by the past.


An important element in Renaissance science is to understand that philosophical arguments from analogies foreshadow scientific inquiry. If X were like Y, then information about how God created man and the universe could be inferred, including the belief that man (the microcosm) was in miniature like the universe (the macrocosm). Note the figure of speech that came from this comparison:___? Some linguists believe that the mind has certain innate properties, one of which is the ability to reason in terms of binaries or opposites: X -- Y. The technical name for this process is the CORRESPONDENCE THEORY, in which the larger unit (macrocosm, i.e. universe) "corresponds" to the smaller unit (microcosm). Thus:


It can be observed from these pre-scientific analogies that Renaissance theories of the universe suggest a divine providence who, like a king, creates an ordered world, but man who allows passion to dominate reason can sometimes disrupt that good order. Shakespeare gives expression to this concept in Ulysses' speech on "order and degree" from his Troilus and Cressida found in another section of this unit on the Renaissance:

As noted before, perhaps the fullest expression of Renaissance cosmology can be found in a concept termed by Arthur Lovejoy "the chain of being." This scheme posited a hierarchical order from the all perfect God to the least significant element in creation. Recall the Medieval unit that considered this idea.:

The Universe was composed of four elements: earth, air, fire and water. These properties of matter existed in all creation and when in proper balance, made for an ordered universe. Tillyard's Elizabethan World Picture is an excellent study of this theory.

The elements, arranged hierarchically, had the following properties:

fire----hot and dry effect

air-----hot and moist effect

water--cold and moist effect

earth---cold and dry effect

In man, being the microcosm or "little" universe, these four elements--called humors--were supposed to exist in harmony, and when they did not, chaos or insanity could occur.

Thus, from philosophy comes the genesis of the academic disciplines we are comfortable with today.