Here I’m going to try and set out what I plan to publish on this website. To explain the principles behind it, I’m going to have to tell you a story.
In 2017 I was delivering some lectures for the Tragedy paper at the English Faculty of the University of Cambridge. These lectures examined the intersection of slapstick and tragedy, and because it wasn’t immediately obvious that they’d be considering how sexual assault was sometimes presented on-stage in particularly cruel, particularly comic, particularly extended, particularly frivolous ways, the introductory gumph for these lectures was accompanied by this small symbol:
Providing this information to students before they attended the lecture was a bad thing, according to several commentators. The actor and comedian David Mitchell believed it kowtowed to the kind of people who “want to be able to curate their experience of the world to exclude elements they’d rather didn’t exist“; one theatre director, David Crilly, believed that by delivering the lecture with a warning, I showed how, “if academic staff are concerned they might say something students find uncomfortable, they will avoid doing it”; A. N. Wilson grumbled in the Daily Mail that “Cambridge students who need ‘trigger warnings’ about sex and murder in Shakespeare may as well need Noddy.” The story found its way across the Atlantic, and featured on Breitbart and Fox News Online.
My immediate response to this coverage can be found by clicking on this little chap here:
In the months that followed I diligently read through the comments underneath all of these articles, normally when I should have been working. Several of these comments sought to explain why I, the lecturer who had given the lectures their accompanying warning, was stupid, overpaid, liberal, and worse.
Other comments targeted the students: sometimes students in general, sometimes Cambridge students in general, and also, in a few cases, the students who I had been trying to inform about the lecture – that is to say, the students who I thought might most benefit from such information. Those comments, I realised, resembled a lot of the texts I’d been lecturing on in the first place: they used a lot of the same techniques of mockery, and alienation, and cruelty, in holding these figures up for scrutiny, dehumanising them and denying them sympathy. After really far too long reading these online comments and thinking about them, I wrote a book: Shakespeare for Snowflakes: On Slapstick and Sympathy.
There’s more I’d like to talk about, too, so on this website I’ll be regularly uploading posts about texts that I find interesting, and the responses they invite/elicit/request/demand. I have no clear purpose in putting these posts together, but one aim – not the main aim, but an aim nonetheless – is to mildly annoy the people I’ve quoted below. If you have any questions or comments you’d like me to respond to in the Mailbag, or if you’d like to request posts on any particular topics, do get in touch.
To get an idea of the discussions to come, you might like to look over my research and teaching profile.
What People Say
a load of insincere, simpering nonsense‘gadams99’
For a lecturer at Cambridge your entire article was stupid and could have been rebutted from the title alone. People like you and the way you act is what makes the common people angry and vote Brexit, Trump and against the Liberal Agenda.A man who found me on Facebook
You didn’t do this because you have any concern over the welfare of your students, you did this because you thought it would make you look kind and caring.‘SamSquanch’