Triggers for the Bard

 “Don’t step on the toes of the dog lovers, the cat lovers, doctors, lawyers, merchants, chiefs, Mormons, Baptists, Unitarians, second-generation Chinese, Swedes, Italians, Germans, Texans, Brooklynites, Irishmen, people from Oregon or Mexico. The people in this book, this play, this TV serial are not meant to represent any actual painters, cartographers, mechanics anywhere.”

Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

One of the more ludicrous current fads on the academic left is the demand for trigger warnings.  Apparently some precious snow flake might recall bad memories by being exposed to literature much beyond twitter scrawls, hence the demand that, for example, Milton’s Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained, be prefaced by warnings that it might trigger bad memories in those still in recovery for those told to “Shut up and sit down !” at Catechism or Sunday School back when they were seven, or that Satanists might have memories of insults tossed at them by Christians intolerant of those who worship absolute evil.  Of course all of this is being done as yet another way of ensuring that the political shibboleths of the moment of the left will never be forgotten for a nano second, especially when perusing literature that might engender political heresy.

Doni Wilson at The Federalist helpfully suggests nine trigger warnings for Hamlet:

1) If you have ever seen a ghost, and were scared out of your mind even though smart enough to get into a university (hey, Horatio and Hamlet were getting all smartened up at Wittenberg!), then YOU MIGHT WANT TO SKIP ACT ONE SCENE ONE because maybe a ghost appears.  Now I don’t really believe in ghosts, and I have never seen one, but maybe you have, so obviously I cannot relate to your level of trauma, and I have no idea if you will get all pale and speechless while reading this scene, never to be the same, so here is your trigger warning.  You’re welcome.  I am super relieved we are not reading Oedipus Rex.

2) Although you might think Hamlet is really obsessed with his mother and Ophelia and how they behave, if you have been in a war, heard of a war, object to war, fear war, or have even been in favor of a war, you might not have caught this, but those night-time security guys are awake ALL NIGHT because Denmark is, how shall I say it?  They are having a martial conflict with Norway.  If you don’t know what “martial” means, then you have probably not been traumatized.  If you thought I wrote “marital,” then you might have been, but that is a whole different trigger warning.  I am getting to them as fast as I can.  War is horrible, and in Hamlet most of it is off stage, but still.  You need to know.

3)  If your Mom married your wily uncle pretty quickly after your Dad was murdered, and you thought that was kind of, well, unseemly, then this might not be the play for you.

4)  If you, as an American, have been to France, and had French people be really rude to you, there is this little moment where Laertes actually asks permission to go back, and so that might just be too much for you.  Just sayin.’

Go here to read the rest.  Plato wrote that Socrates opined that an unexamined life is not worth living.  The whole point of trigger warnings, a short term genius stroke of the left considering our pathetic “I’m a victim!” culture, is that readers not have mirrors from other times held up to them by which they can begin thinking about, and often judging, their own time and place.  Most of the contemporary left fears many things, but at the top of the list is free inquiry, because once that begins their scheme of enforcing a stifling political orthodoxy, particularly among the young, begins to unravel.



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  1. I could have used a few trigger warnings in my day as an English major. Warning: This class will assign literature and criticism that is offensive to good taste, lovers of language, logical thinkers, those with common sense, and anyone who holds Western culture in high esteem. Proceed at your own risk.

  2. Fortunately I have not had such problems as a Dickinson undergrad thus far, Mrs. Z. I’m on my way to being an English major and I have had thoughtful, challenging classes from brilliant professors. In my most recent class, we read Shakespeare’s sonnets, Forster’s A Passage to India, Othello, and a large amount of literary theory and criticism, from Brooks to Said. Everyone in our class talked during discussions, and we all wrote formalist and new historicist papers as well as critical editions. The English department at my college is first rate.

  3. Glad to hear it, Rodney. There were really only a few classes that would have required my warning. Many of my courses were great, and blessedly a political.

  4. “…hence the demand that, for example, Milton’s Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained, be prefaced by warnings that it might trigger bad memories in those still in recovery for those told to ‘Shut up and sit down !’ at Catechism or Sunday School back when they were seven…”

    I was told at certain meetings at 28 years of age to take the cotton out of my ears and stuff it in my mouth. No one cared if my tender feelings were hurt, and my mentor actually took some pleasuring in ensuring that I actually felt something instead of the mere the numbness that comes with being the intoxicated recipient of constant sentimentalism. His mentor was a Franciscan priest and my Confessor who agreed with this approach 100%.

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