Cambridge students receive 'trigger warnings' for Shakespeare plays

English literature undergrads at Cambridge University were warned about a lecture on two plays by William Shakespeare that would include references to sexual violence and sexual assault.  The warnings were intended to give students who may be upset about those topics an excuse to miss the lecture.

Mary Beard, a professor of classics, called that approach "fundamentally dishonest."

Independent:

Beard said previously: "We have to encourage students to be able to face that, even when they find they're awkward and difficult for all kinds of good reasons."

David Crilly, artistic director at The Cambridge Shakespeare Festival, said: "If a student of English Literature doesn't know that Titus Andronicus containts [sic] scenes of violence they shouldn't be on the course.

"This degree of sensitivity will inevitably curtail academic freedom. If the academic staff are concerned they imght [sic] say something students find uncomfortable they will avoid doing it."

Another Cambridge lecturer told Newsnight that trigger warnings had been added to the timetable "without discussion", while another admitted they "self-censored" texts on their course to avoid causing offence to some students. 

A Cambridge University spokesman said that the English Faculty did not have a policy on trigger warnings but "some lecturers indicate that some sensitive material will be covered in a lecture by informing the English Faculty Admin staff".

"This is entirely at the lecturer's own discretion and is in no way indicative of a Faculty wide policy," they added.

Anyone who is "triggered" by fictional violence will not be able to function in the real world.  But it hardly matters.  Trigger warnings are not meant to protect students as much as they are used to protect faculty members.  They are terrified of speaking about controversial subjects lest the school administration penalize them for it.

But really, now – Shakespeare?  Perhaps someone might explain how anyone can get a degree in English literature without completely absorbing the Bard's plays and sonnets.  The plays themselves are retellings of legends and myths that most of Shakespeare's contemporaries were familiar with.  But from our perspective and the distance of time, the lessons and values that Shakespeare was highlighting represent the best that Western civilization has to offer.

And that's the real problem, isn't it?  Trigger warnings aside, this is just another episode in the assault on our shared civilization.  To destroy Western civilization means destroying the culture that nurtured it.  Making Shakespeare unavailable is another nail in the coffin by those whose job should be to protect him.

English literature undergrads at Cambridge University were warned about a lecture on two plays by William Shakespeare that would include references to sexual violence and sexual assault.  The warnings were intended to give students who may be upset about those topics an excuse to miss the lecture.

Mary Beard, a professor of classics, called that approach "fundamentally dishonest."

Independent:

Beard said previously: "We have to encourage students to be able to face that, even when they find they're awkward and difficult for all kinds of good reasons."

David Crilly, artistic director at The Cambridge Shakespeare Festival, said: "If a student of English Literature doesn't know that Titus Andronicus containts [sic] scenes of violence they shouldn't be on the course.

"This degree of sensitivity will inevitably curtail academic freedom. If the academic staff are concerned they imght [sic] say something students find uncomfortable they will avoid doing it."

Another Cambridge lecturer told Newsnight that trigger warnings had been added to the timetable "without discussion", while another admitted they "self-censored" texts on their course to avoid causing offence to some students. 

A Cambridge University spokesman said that the English Faculty did not have a policy on trigger warnings but "some lecturers indicate that some sensitive material will be covered in a lecture by informing the English Faculty Admin staff".

"This is entirely at the lecturer's own discretion and is in no way indicative of a Faculty wide policy," they added.

Anyone who is "triggered" by fictional violence will not be able to function in the real world.  But it hardly matters.  Trigger warnings are not meant to protect students as much as they are used to protect faculty members.  They are terrified of speaking about controversial subjects lest the school administration penalize them for it.

But really, now – Shakespeare?  Perhaps someone might explain how anyone can get a degree in English literature without completely absorbing the Bard's plays and sonnets.  The plays themselves are retellings of legends and myths that most of Shakespeare's contemporaries were familiar with.  But from our perspective and the distance of time, the lessons and values that Shakespeare was highlighting represent the best that Western civilization has to offer.

And that's the real problem, isn't it?  Trigger warnings aside, this is just another episode in the assault on our shared civilization.  To destroy Western civilization means destroying the culture that nurtured it.  Making Shakespeare unavailable is another nail in the coffin by those whose job should be to protect him.

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