Published online by Cambridge University Press: 03 May 2011
Introduction and aim of the chapter
The aim of this chapter is to demonstrate how the basic doctrine of humoral theory, with its applications, was disseminated and appropriated in early modern England. The early modern period provides a diversified picture of evolving practices of both professional and lay writing. The educational levels of authors and audiences varied, and we can expect multiple appropriations of basic cultural products like medical commonplaces that formed part of shared meanings, attitudes and values.1 They found expression in symbolic forms, such as performances, artefacts and texts (Harris 1995: 1). Matters of health are of general interest, and knowledge of the basic doctrines must have penetrated all layers of society in some form. Humoral theory was derived from learned science and originated in academic settings, but in the fifteenth century it became modified for broader audiences: details became less specific; simplified applications were added for everyday use; and the underlying text type often changed from expository to instructive (Taavitsainen 2005).
Meanings and attitudes are encoded in texts, and an analysis of semantic and pragmatic features of language use provides a means to probe into them. My point of departure is the occurrence of the lexical item ‘humour’ in different contexts, as its occurrences should reveal how the humoral theory was disseminated and appropriated in the early modern period.