Book Chapter

Being Breathed: from King Lear to clinical medicine


This essay explores the therapeutic possibilities opened up by literature for breathless patients today. Focusing on King Lear, it considers Shakespeare’s suggestion that we do not breathe as isolated agents but are instead ‘breathed’ by those who know and observe us. Breath emerges as fundamental to early modern personhood. Many breathless patients today still experience the inseparability of breath and aliveness, and breathlessness becomes ‘a way of life’ as they adapt their sense of what is possible in order to accommodate their condition. This life belongs not only to sufferers, however, but also to those who care for them. Considering recent clinical research on vicarious dyspnoea alongside King Lear reveals the existential and therapeutic potential of breath’s intimate, under-recognised relationality.

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Craik, Katharine
Chapman, Stephen J.

Oxford Brookes departments

Department of English and Modern Languages


Year of publication: 2021
Date of RADAR deposit: 2020-01-17

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

Related resources

This RADAR resource is Identical to ‘Being breathed’: From King Lear to clinical medicine
This RADAR resource is Part of The life of breath in literature, culture and medicine: Classical to contemporary / edited by David Fuller, Corinne Saunders, Jane Macnaughton (Palgrave Macmillan, 2021).


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