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Brid Phillips

Phone: (+61 4) 2294 8177


Start date

May 2013

Submission date

Jan 2017


Brid Phillips

Brid Phillips profile photo


Stirring the pot with colour: an examination of the affective role of colour use in the drama of William Shakespeare


This project analyses and also demonstrates how Shakespeare figured colours to express emotion in his plays. As the research is dependent on belief structures current in the early modern period, the work investigates the relationship of emotion to colour using contemporaneous ideologies surrounding humoral theory, rhetorical devices, material culture, physiognomy, and current cultural teachings. Previous contiguous arguments in the Shakespearean corpus have centred on disparate areas such as emotions theories and how they can be defined and explored; humoral theories and how they relate to emotions; and the representations of colour terms and their symbolic function. This study will build on these works by examining the nexus between the study of emotions and the use of colour in early modern drama which will tease out nuances of emotional expression hitherto untapped. The key area of passions and how they were moved by the senses will be explored to help determine the affective meaning that connects both the physical colour and colour terms. Contextual and cultural influences are examined to assess their impact on the relationship between colour and emotion. To frame a methodology for examining the emotional provocation and responses provided by colour, the project builds on current research in the history of emotions while also expanding on the Bourdieuian model of habitus. The social and cultural field within which Shakespeare worked is explored as this has a significant impact on the perceptions and shared experiences that molded response within the early modern habitus and the project aims to develop a rigorous framework for further research in the field.

Why my research is important

The exploration of how colour relates to affect allows a lively and dynamic reassessment of the role of colour in the dramatic texts of William Shakespeare. Early modern doctrine fuses the mind with the embodiment of the emotion. This suggests that a modern theoretical model that acknowledges the influence of body/mind relationship is an apt conceptual model to consider the emotional states of the early model individual. I propose a model termed ‘chromatic visceral historicism’ which promotes an investigation into the cultural and social cognitive and visceral emotional response flagged, referenced or promoted by the use of normative colour terms. To be culturally and socially relevant the colour terms must have a normative collective function and relevance. The visceral element implies the cognitive and physical response elicited and the term historicism requires an exploration of the relevant social and cultural environment. Visceral historicism and a study of emotion practices combines a preoccupation with the relationship between emotions as felt and emotions as embodied and how these can be sourced in historical literature.

With visceral historicism, I see the habitus that underpins the expression of emotion allowing the colours to become in some way a cultural shorthand for ongoing flagging of emotional positions or directions. I will advocate visceral historicism as a critical practice rather than a theoretical framework which is a reified and uncompromising structure. Language shapes the expression of human experience and thus is in itself dependent upon questions of social and cultural power and influence of the habitus itself. The research adds to our understanding of the expressive possibilities of colour in text and performance and increases the emotional register that can be explored through the development of a sound theoretical framework


  • Australian Postgraduate Award
  • ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions PhD Scholarship
  • ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions Travel Award
  • ANZAMEMS Postgraduate Travel Scholarship