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“Drown the lamenting fool”: Shakespeare’s watery networks of heart health and emotion

An online seminar hosted by The University of Western Australia. Part of the CHE Virtual Fellows Seminar Series


Image: Francis Legat, King Lear Weeping Over the Body of Cordelia (Shakespeare, King Lear, Act 5, Scene 3), August 1, 1792. The Met.

Date: Tuesday 8 November 2022
Time: 10:00am AWST / 1:00pm AEDT
Venue: Online via Zoom. Please email emotions@uwa.edu.au for connection details. 
Enquiries: emotions@uwa.edu.au

Hearts exist in watery networks within Shakespeare’s world. From tears to oceans of grief, the behaviour, health and emotions of the heart are frequently couched in aquatic language in Shakespeare’s corpus. In Titus Andronicus, Titus bids his tortured daughter to “drown” her “lamenting” heart (3.2.20). In Antony and Cleopatra, Enobarbus describes his breaking heart as “dried with grief” (4.10.16). In King Lear, Lear refuses to ease the pressure on his heart through “weeping” (2.2.473). The plays repeatedly demonstrate a correlation between water and heart health, commonly through the understanding that the expulsion of intense emotion through weeping would reduce pressure on the heart. This paper will explore points of interconnection between hearts, health, water and emotion in Shakespeare’s plays. I will consider the relationship between heart health and watery networks both internal and external to the body, investigating how these watery networks might both treat and encourage infection or contagion of heart-related illnesses (physiological and emotional). In examining the role of water in extending networks of heart illness, this chapter connects a health humanities perspective with developments in Shakespearean blue humanities. 


Brid Phillips (Edith Cowan University)


Claire Hansen is a Lecturer in English at the Australian National University. She is also a researcher on the Shakespeare Reloaded project and holds an honorary virtual Fellowship with the Centre for History of Emotions (2022). Her research interests include Shakespeare and early modern drama, ecocriticism, the blue humanities and the health humanities. She is a co-chair of the Blue Humanities Lab and a co-founder of the health humanities project, The Heart of the Matter. Claire’s current project explores place-based approaches to Shakespeare and she is writing an Element on Shakespeare and Place-Based Learning for Cambridge University Press.