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British university issues trigger warning for literature course on tragic drama

‘Emotional upheaval’ is how tragedy works, scholar said

A British university added a trigger warning to a literature course on tragic drama.

“Tragedy is a genre obsessed with violence and suffering, often of a sexual or graphic kind, and so some of the content might be triggering for some students” according to an introduction to a module at the University of Derby in England.

The Telegraph reviewed the warning and reported it Jan. 25.

The course includes Shakespearean tragedies “Hamlet” and “King Lear” as well as Arthur Miller’s classic “Death of a Salesman,” according to The Telegraph.

The plays in the course span some 2,500 years, beginning with the Greek “Oresteia” trilogy by Aeschylus and the Athenian tragedy “Oedipus Rex” by Sophocles, it reported.

The University of Derby is not alone in its decision.

“The University of Aberdeen in Scotland put a trigger warning on ‘Beowulf’ due to its depictions of ‘animal cruelty’ and ‘ableism,'” Professor Jonathan Turley reported on his personal blog, adding:

Even the death of an albatross in “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” required a trigger warning at the University of Greenwich as “potentially upsetting.”

There is trigger warning imposed by the University of Warwick for Thomas Hardy’s “Far From the Madding Crown” because of its depiction of “rural life.”

Of course, the British are not alone in such warnings. The National Archives recently moved to add trigger warnings to displays on our founders and founding documents.

Last year, the University of Northampton also put a trigger warning on George Orwell’s dystopian novel “1984,” citing “explicit material” that some students may find “offensive and upsetting.”

An expert on how societies manage uncertainty and loss spoke critically of the university’s decision.

“In order to draw a reader or an audience into the drama, tragedy is meant to provoke emotional upheaval and cause upset,” Frank Furedi, a cultural commentator and professor emeritus of sociology at the University of Kent, told The Telegraph.

Furedi (pictured) has studied and written extensively on the sociology of fear and risk aversion, according to his faculty bio.

“If they fail to provoke strong emotions then a tragedy is anything but tragic,” Furedi stated. “There is no such thing as a safe tragedy and students who wish to study this literary form have to live with it.”

“A trigger warning is merely a banal way of saying beware of engaging with this wonderful art form,” according to Furedi. “The real tragedy is the use of trigger warnings for grown-up students who are about to encounter their first taste of Euripides.”

The University of Derby told The Telegraph that the trigger warning was helpful, even necessary.

“Many of the plays explicitly engage with themes of violence and trauma, frequently sexual in nature, and the module leader believes that students benefit from being made aware of this before classes begin,” according to the university.

MORE: British university issues racism trigger warning for classic novel ‘Ivanhoe’

IMAGE: Britannica

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