What did Shakespeare do for psychology

Skewered: Doctor Shakespeare

If the English physician Kenneth Heaton has his way, doctors should do one thing above all else: read Shakespeare. However, the focus is not on literary enjoyment, but on suggestions for diagnoses. Because in addition to his high level of linguistic art, the English poet seems to have been very familiar with the physical effects of mental stress. Heaton, who works at the University of Bristol, went out of his way to examine problems such as headaches, dizziness, and signs of fatigue in William Shakespeare's characters. He also compared the frequency of their mention with that in other works from the same period.

Heaton stated: Shakespeare was evidently an expert on psychosomatic symptoms. In total, he found at least 46 places in 42 works in which characters suffer from shortness of breath due to boiling emotions, become physically completely tired from grief after severe strokes of fate or lose their hearing due to psychological stress. In five works? including in? Romeo and Juliet ?? Male characters suffer from dizzy spells. In the 46 works of other authors of the 16th century, Heaton came across only 15 such descriptions.

In addition, Shakespeare describes the respective suffering in much more detail than his contemporaries. He not only mentions the symptoms, but also the associated feelings of his characters. This is what King Lear expresses when he gets caught in a thunderstorm with his faithful fool:? The storm in my mind takes away all feeling from my senses than what beats in my heart.? Translated into the language of modern neurologists: Lear's brain is so preoccupied with its strong emotions that it is incapable of other messages from the body? like the cold and wet of the thunderstorm? to register.

Heaton suspects that Shakespeare was very much aware of these connections. The doctor would like to create precisely this awareness among his colleagues. Far too seldom connections are made between psychological stress and physical complaints. This is crucial in order to refer patients to the right specialist.

Now it may be that Shakespeare knew better than many modern medical professionals. However, he probably did not use emotions and the resulting complaints to distinguish himself in medicine, but rather used them as a stylistic device to make his characters appear more human and thus gain the empathy of his readers and theater-goers. But it could also have subconsciously processed its own body awareness, speculates Heaton. Those who do not trust their doctor to do this can now fill this gap with world literature.

Kenneth Heaton (University of Bristol): Medical Humanities, doi: 10.1136 / jmh.2010.006643 © Wissenschaft.de? Marion Martin
November 25, 2011

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