Popular Renaissance English Publications

Even in the late 1500s and the 1600s, printed pamphlets and single-sheet broadsides and cheap books were available for people besides the rich. Some touted key ideas of the Renaissance world view. We see that in what are called "emblem books": illustrated lessons of key ideas of the time. Below, look at four emblems and the poems that follow them explaining the "psychology of humours" that was a prevalent way of understanding human behavior. The four "elements" in nature were earth, air, fire, and water. The corresponding humours were melancholy, blood (in this example labeled "sanguis"), choler, and phlegm. Whichever humour predominated in a person would color his or her personality toward its qualities. Read the emblem poems yourself for a clearer picture! They are taken from Peachem's Minerva Britanna or A Garden of Heroical Devices (16??).

You may recall the emblem on the title page of this web site: it explained "chaos" (written in Greek) as the four elements in disarray, disorder. It is interesting to note that such an idea goes back to the Hebrew Bible and the opening sections of the Book of Genesis. There, before God creates the earth, there is tohu va vohu (transliterating the Hebrew) which basically means the same formlessness of matter described in the emblem for chaos.

Click here to turn to go to the next page, a pamphlet about how to pick pockets!

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