But yet methinks it is very sultry and hot for my Complexion.

All these years into my life with Shakespeare and I never really examined “complexion” before. I thought of it how we mean “complexion” today – that is the color or state of one’s face/skin. Which – apparently it could also mean at the time of this play’s writing – but –
complexion originally meant one’s temperament and its relationship to the four humors. It only meant FACE as it related to how one’s personality or temperament was reflected there.

I feel like I want to go back in time and play Viola in 12th Night again. I’m not sure it would have come through but the line about loving someone of Orsino’s complexion would have meant a lot more to me if it had been about his temperament instead of his FACE coloring. I mean – it always struck me as so shallow and racially uncomfortable to have characters be so obsessed with their love interests’ complexions – that is, the hue of their faces. But it wasn’t about that at all, I learn now from a cursory etymological search.

It’s hot for Hamlet’s “complexion” – not because of his skin tone – but because of his temperament – his humors. I know a scholar who has done a bunch of research on the humors and I remember that she identified which of the humors Hamlet seemed to be – I want to say wetness was involved? And darkness? And also that the humors were associated with geography as well. Spain is hot and dry. Denmark is cold and moist. Is this right? Anyway. A sultry and hot bit of weather would not suit Hamlet’s humors. His complexion, that is, his face, would not be a factor.


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