I am but mad north-north-west.

I heard an extraordinary lecture by Dr. Gail Paster last week. She calls herself something like a somatic anthropologist and her work explores the body and how it relates to the worldview of the time. We learned about the Four Humors, which most of us might have said, before this lecture, “Yeah, Yeah, the Four humors, that’s a thing in Shakespeare. I know that, check!”

But this time we learned how the beliefs of the make-up of the body connected to the world outside. The blackness of bile connecting to the blackness of night and blackness of purpose and the intermingling of all of those things. We also learned about the humors’ connection to the Four Qualities and their combos: warm, dry, wet and cold and how the references to those qualities had emotional states as well as climate-like ones.

There was a discussion of winds in the body and winds out of doors, the way a storm could come over you on both the inside and the outside. And there was a hint of emotive geography – how those in the south were hotter and more moist or drier and colder depending on the source. And what all of this might mean in reference to their emotional qualities.

I’m fascinated with all this and it makes me wonder about the Four Directions. Does the North-North-West represent something in particular to an Elizabethan audience? Does a North-North-West wind suggest a particular state conducive to Hamlet’s particular brand of madness? Is he sending a coded message to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern without saying what he means explicitly?
And what of Westerly-ness? Why North-Northwest and not just North?
He slips off the scale of the Four Directions to suggest Eight Directions.
North, North-west, like warm and dry or cold- wet.
I’m just wondering.


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