English students receive warning about ‘racism’ and ‘domestic violence’ at Othello

Othello now comes with a content notice, as students are warned of ‘racism’ in Shakespeare’s play.


© Provided by The Telegraph

Academics have indicated that the 420 year old tragedy of the bardabout its most famous non-white character, contains themes that “can be difficult.”

Othello features ‘racism’, English Literature students at the University of Winchester now warn, in one of several content advisories issued for canonical texts.

These also indicate that the 1603 play about a Moorish (possibly black) military commander, who is driven to murder by his inflamed jealousy, contains themes of “domestic violence”.

Othello’s reviews come amid the widespread issuance of “trigger warnings” in academia to spare the feelings of students struggling with difficult material, a trend that has raised concerns about the “infantilization” of young people.

Winchester University said its information was intended to ‘advise’ and not ‘warn’, saying: ‘We are not shy about covering difficult material, but we believe in informing students at the advances, especially in areas such as racial violence, sexual violence, and suicide that students may have experienced themselves.

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

“Discriminatory language”

Shakespeare’s tale of Othello murdering his lover Desdemona is not the only seventeenth-century work to be accompanied by a notice. Students are advised that Christopher Marlowe’s 1589 play The Jew of Malta also contains “racism”, and that John Donne’s Sonnet 14 prominently features a reference to “rape”.

Edgar Allen Poe’s works also came with notices of racial content at Winchester, with students warned that the 1843 short story The Gold Bug contains a “racially stereotypical depiction” of an African-American character, and the tale of 1849 Hop-Frog also harbors a “racist characterization”. African Americans”.

Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot carries a caveat because, among other themes, it contains “discriminatory language regarding sex and sexuality (homophobia)”.

Works by William Faulkner and HP Lovecraft also received reviews from Winchester, who said “students respond best…when they come to class knowing what to expect.”

But the tendency to issue warnings has been criticized by some academics, including Professor Dennis Hayes of the University of Derby, an education expert who has worried that institutions are overprotecting students’ feelings.

Racism, sexism and ableism in Shakespeare's plays

© Provided by The Telegraph
Racism, sexism and ableism in Shakespeare’s plays

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

“The idea that students need trigger warnings tells you what higher education institutions and student unions think of young people. They treat them as if they wouldn’t be able to cope. It’s infantilizing. Students do not need to be shielded from ideas that they might find difficult or offensive.

“They can cope. But if they’re constantly treated like they can’t cope, they may come to believe it, as some students do now. It’s not caring, it’s contemptuous.

“It’s time to let go of this benevolent disregard for young people.”

Sign up for the free Front Page newsletter: Your essential guide to The Telegraph’s daily agenda – straight to your inbox seven days a week.