Shakespeare play brandished with 'racism' and 'domestic violence' warnings

Shakespeare play brandished with 'racism' and 'domestic violence' warnings
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Anna Fox

By Anna Fox

Published: 13/07/2022

- 21:06

Updated: 14/02/2023

- 10:50

Othello has been dubbed "difficult" for some students to discuss

William Shakespeare's tragedy play, Othello, has been brandished with a content advisory, as students studying it are now warned to anticipate "racism" throughout.

Academics have advised that the 420-year-old tragedy, concerning his most infamous non-white character, contains scenes which "may be difficult" for readers.

English Literature students at the University of Winchester are now warned to expect "racism" in the play, in one aspect of an extensive list of advisories published for historical texts.

These advisories maintain that the 1603 play about a Moorish (possibly black) military commander, who is driven to commit murder by an enraged fit of jealousy, includes themes of “domestic violence”.

The enforcement of advisories follows the increasing prevalence of "trigger warnings" in academic settings, expected to cushion students coping with challenging materials, with critics arguing it is "infantilising" young people.

Shakespeare's plays now come with a warning
Shakespeare's plays now come with a warning

The University of Winchester hit back, saying its guidelines are supposed to "advise" and not "warn" students, adding: "We do not shy away from covering difficult material, but do believe in giving students advanced notice, particularly in areas such as racial violence, sexual violence, and suicide where students may well themselves have been victims.

“Literature frequently strays into areas that people may find difficult to discuss and our responses to different literary texts can often be deeply personal.”

Othello has been brandished as 'racist'
Othello has been brandished as 'racist'
Wiki Commons

Othello is not the only historical text which has been slapped with a "woke" warning.

Winchester university students were also warned about Edgar Allen Poe's work, with the 1843 short story, The Gold Bug, being deemed as a "racially stereotyped depiction" of an African American character.

Salem's Lot by Stephen King, has adopted a cautionary note, with students set to expect “discriminatory language pertaining to gender and sexuality (homophobia)” throughout.

The university emphasised the importance of warnings, saying “students respond best... when they come to a class knowing what to expect”.

Academics across the industry have openly criticised the move, with Professor Dennis Hayes from Derby University, raising issues about universities being overprotective of students' feelings.

He said: “It’s time we had a trigger warning about trigger warnings.

“The idea that students need trigger warnings tells you what high education institutions and student unions think about young people. They treat them as if they won't be able to cope. It is infantilising. Students don’t need protection from ideas that they might find difficult or offensive.

“They can cope. But if they are constantly treated as if they can’t cope they may end up believing it, as some students now do. It is not caring, it is contemptuous.

“Time to ditch this caring contempt for young people.”

The University of Winchester
The University of Winchester
Wiki Commons

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