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Cambridge University students given trigger warnings for Shakespeare plays

Roisin O'Connor
Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Lavinia, William Houston as Titus Andronicus and Dyfan Dwyfor as Lucius: Tony Larkin/Rex Features

Academics have criticised "trigger warnings" after Cambridge University students were warned about "potentially distressing topics" in plays by Shakespeare.

English literature undergraduates were apparently cautioned that a lecture focusing on Titus Andronicus and The Comedy of Errors would include "discussions of sexual violence" and "sexual assault".

According to The Telegraph, the trigger warnings were posted in the English Faculty's 'Notes on Lectures' document which is circulated to students at the university.

(Getty)

Academics have expressed concern that colleges trying to protect young adults from certain issues may render them incapable of dealing with real life when they graduate.

Supporters of trigger warnings say they serve to help students who may be upset if a text reminds them of a personal traumatic experience.

However critics such as Mary Beard, a Professor of Classics at Cambridge, say allowing students to avoid learning about traumatic episodes of history and literature is "fundamentally dishonest".

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 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 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.

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