It’s routine to encounter claims that political correctness has gone too far. Generally, this makes me want to switch off. I hesitate to profile someone who might use the phrase but many people willing to say “political correctness” in a negative way tend to strike me as insensitive.
So I was interested to feel my opinions fluctuate back and forth at one example of outrage reported in the national media. English literature students at Cambridge University were given “trigger warnings” about potentially distressing content in the plays of Shakespeare. Yes, Shakespeare. This is work where, frequently, everybody dies. In these dramas, the social norms are at least 400 years old, and often represent events from many centuries before even then.
It is, as one academic pointed out, to be expected there will be violent and sexual scenes. Everybody knows the Bard could shock, even if they haven’t benefited, as I did, from an education gained at St John’s High School, Dundee.
Then I went and looked up Titus Andronicus, one of the relevant plays, which we didn’t read at school. I realised why: it includes events that would get a 1980s straight-to-VHS film banned, including rape, child murder, various dismemberments and a mother eating her sons after they have been cooked in a pie.
Granted, that’s the extreme example but even the plays I did study, like Macbeth and Hamlet, are blood-soaked and, unless you’re a regular patron of the arts, it’s easy to forget the extent of it.
This is not ye olden days. We can no longer ignore the feelings of others, because everybody’s connected in a global community of communication. If someone has a mental health problem, we don’t send them to the countryside and forget about them. Now, we engage with each other’s problems, or at least we should.
So I say they can have their trigger warnings. Sometimes, people get upset for good reasons and we should not judge. You can’t know what people have been through and compassion costs nothing.
As a wise man once said, to thine own self be true.