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.
Chapman, Stephen J.
Department of English and Modern Languages
Year of publication: 2021Date of RADAR deposit: 2020-01-17