Research Stream


Brid Phillips
The University of Western Australia


Colour in (E)motion: Emotion, Affect and Colour in the Drama of William Shakespeare

Early modern drama was designed to stir the emotions – this project suggests the use of colour in the text was one of the ways in which this was done. “Stiring the pot” investigates the emotional weight behind colour words in early modern usage and considers how they are employed to enhance an emotional connection/reaction during readings of the Shakespeare’s plays.

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

Image: Procession portrait of Elizabeth I of England, c. 1601 Attributed to Robert Peake the Elder. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The symbolic valency of colours in any period is decidedly varied and context dependent. This means it can be challenging to read the emotional significance of colour, or to read the nature of emotions through their associations with colours. The principal aim of this research is to identify and analyse change in the affective and symbolic employment and significance of colour in early modern literature and theatre. The result will provide a framework for understanding the emotional power of colour in the early modern period, and also develop a methodology for investigating colour within a diverse range of literatures.

The research will investigate the relationship of colour to emotion using contemporaneous ideologies surrounding humoral theory, vision and optics, material culture, and audience reception. Previous 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 examine 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 research should add to our understanding of the expressive possibilities of colour in both text and performance, while using the early modern discourse on colour to extend our appreciation of early modern emotional states and oscillations.