Be Still, My Beating Heart: Reading Pulselessness from Shakespeare to the Artificial Heart

Article Summary by Claire Hansen and Michael Charles Stevens

This article explores how Shakespearean drama can help us to understand the significance of the heartbeat⁠—medically and culturally. Patients with modern artificial hearts (or “LVADs”) do not have a discernible pulse. This undermines centuries of understanding the pulse as central to human life. To consider this contradiction, we turn to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and its unique depiction of pulselessness to explore connections between the heartbeat and our human sense of self.

Read the full article on the Medical Humanities Journal website.


Michael Charles Stevens PortraitDr Stevens is a biomedical engineering researcher at UNSW Sydney. He received his undergraduate degree in Medical Engineering from Queensland University of Technology in 2010, graduating with first class honours. He then completed his PhD in 2014 at the University of Queensland, in which he developed a physiological control system for dual rotary left ventricular assist devices operating as a biventricular assist device. He has been a researcher at UNSW since 2015, with interests in artificial hearts and cardiovascular devices, as well as in using technology to improve the wellbeing of older Australians.


Claire Hansen PortraitDr Claire Hansen is a Senior Lecturer in English at James Cook University (JCU), Australia. She is a member of the education project, Shakespeare Reloaded, and co-chair of the JCU Blue Humanities Lab. She publishes on Shakespeare, ecocriticism, place, pedagogy and the health humanities. Her next book on Shakespeare and place-based learning is forthcoming with Cambridge University Press.

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