-- Robert Preidt
WEDNESDAY, Nov. 23 (HealthDay News) -- Doctors might gain a
better understanding of the mind-body connection by reading the
plays and poems of William Shakespeare because he regularly used
physical symptoms to illustrate his characters' deep emotions, a
Dr. Kenneth Heaton, a medical doctor and Shakespeare expert,
analyzed 42 of Shakespeare's works and compared them to 46 works by
his 16th-century contemporaries. The results are published in the
Nov. 24 issue of the journal
Heaton found that Shakespeare was far more likely than other
authors of his time to describe characters in emotional distress as
having psychosomatic symptoms such as dizziness or faintness, and
blunted or heightened sensitivity to touch and pain.
Male characters in "Taming of the Shrew," "Romeo and Juliet,"
"Henry VI Part 1," "Cymbeline," and "Troilus and Cressida"
experience vertigo, giddiness or dizziness. Only one other work by
another author includes a similar incident.
Eleven descriptions of breathlessness associated with extreme
emotion are described in "Two Gentlemen of Verona," "The Rape of
Lucrece," "Venus and Adonis," and "Troilus and Cressida," compared
with two in the works of other writers of the time.
Shakespeare linked fatigue and weariness to grief or distress in
a number of plays, including "Hamlet," "The Merchant of Venice,"
"As You Like It," "Richard II," and "Henry IV Part 2." The Bard
used this mind-body link twice as often as his contemporaries,
according to the new report.
Disturbed hearing linked to intense emotion is described in
"King Lear," "Richard II" and "King John," while blunted or
exaggerated senses occur in "Much Ado About Nothing," "Venus and
Adonis," "King Lear," "Love's Labour's Lost" and "Coriolanus."
"Shakespeare's perception that numbness and enhanced sensation can have a psychological origin seems not to have been shared by his contemporaries, none of whom included such phenomena in the works examined," Heaton wrote in a journal news release.
The researcher also noted that Shakespeare used body coldness
and faintness to convey shock -- including in "Romeo and Juliet,"
"Titus Andronicus," "Julius Caesar," "Love's Labour's Lost" and
"Richard III" -- much more often than other writers of his
The findings show that Shakespeare "was an exceptionally
body-conscious writer" and should remind doctors that physical
symptoms can have psychological causes, Heaton said.
"Many doctors are reluctant to attribute physical symptoms to emotional disturbance, and this results in delayed diagnosis, over-investigation and inappropriate treatment," Heaton explained in the news release.
"They could learn to be better doctors by studying Shakespeare. This is important because the so-called functional symptoms are the leading cause of general practitioner visits and of referrals to specialists," he noted.
The American Academy of Family Physicians has more about the
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