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Cambridge University gives trigger warnings for Shakespeare plays

(Associated Press)

Professors at Cambridge University are offering trigger warnings before introducing their students to the works of Shakespeare.

Undergraduates studying english literature at the university evidently were alerted of these warnings in a document entitled “Notes on Lectures” that was dispersed to students from the English department’s faculty members.

The trigger warnings made students aware of “potentially distressing topics” that are supposedly present in Shakespeare plays, which are part of the Cambridge University English Department’s curriculum.

The specific plays in question are Titus Andronicus and The Comedy of Errors.

The play Titus Andronicus is widely viewed as Shakespeare’s most violent piece of work. Knowledge of this noteworthiness presumably caused faculty members to be concerned that students who have had violent experiences in their past may become unsettled. The Comedy of Errors, moreover, is purportedly embedded with “discussion of sexual violence” as well as “sexual assault.”

Proponents of the university’s decision to implement trigger warnings in these Shakespearean lectures state this measure is most beneficial for students who may perceive the plays as similar to distressing events that they may have experienced in the past.

David Crilly, artistic director at the annual Cambridge Shakespeare Festival, is adamantly against these trigger warnings.

“If a student of English Literature doesn’t know that ‘Titus Andronicus’ contains scenes of violence they shouldn’t be on the course,” Crilly told the publication. “This degree of sensitivity will inevitably curtail academic freedom.

Gill Evans, emeritus professor of medieval theology at the University, told The Telegraph that this action may actually be the impetus to a “very annoyed” academic staff.

Evans stated that the English department’s trigger warnings are “likely to be motivated by a genuine wish not to risk upsetting students.” To the contrary, Evans added that these cautionary methods are actually a part of an ongoing trend to placate the “hyper-sensitive” youth of today’s generation.

“Interfering with academic courses for non-academic reasons is so important, and it ought to be approved by Regent House,” Evans expressed. “Obviously one would not want to be heartless. But you’ve got to learn to be a bit resilient”.

Cambridge is not the first institution in the U.K. to provide trigger warnings for seemingly harmless lectures. At the University of Oxford, law lecturers were apparently asked to preemptively issue trigger warnings for discourse involving violence or death. Students were also forewarned to leave if they found the material to be “distressing.”

“This degree of sensitivity will inevitably curtail academic freedom. If the academic staff are concerned they might say something students find uncomfortable they will avoid doing it,” Crilly added.

A spokesman from Cambridge clarified that although English faculty members have not established a policy on trigger warnings, “some lecturers indicate that some sensitive material will be covered in a lecture by informing the English Faculty Admin staff.”


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