Chapter 1 – Quotesheet

Below are some of the main quotations from Chapter 1 (click here for the livestream).

“Yeah, and Robin Williams just did some stupid voices. David Mitchell just complains about things that annoy him. George Carlin told everyone they were stupid.

Pretty much any comedy can be made unfunny if you describe it literally. This was what the dude was known for – the comedy came from his delivery, not the actual content.”

‘ThatGuyYouArent2’, comment on ‘Tommy Cooper Dies Live on Stage’, posted on Youtube by ‘TVQU1Z on twitter’ 15th April 2018’

“Everybody knows he died on stage. I don’t think we need to see this to be reminded of that. They ought to have some regard to his family. It does YouTube a discredit. If they have decided that this is the sort of material that people should be free to watch then I think they should reconsider.”

Philip Davies MP, quoted in Chris Irvine, ‘Footage of Tommy Cooper’s death on stage shown on Youtube’, Telegraph, 9th May 2009, and also in Paul Revoir, ‘Youtube storm over video showing Tommy Cooper’s death on stage’, MailOnline, 9th May 2009

“to consider questions that have tested writers and artists across time: the nature of suffering; the language by which we express pain or sympathize; the ethics or cruelty of theatre.”

‘The Cambridge English Course’, University of Cambridge Faculty of English website,

FFS, if you’ve got as far as university education, don’t tell me you’ve lived your snowflake youth completely oblivious to these Shakespeare plays and their content!! How is that possible, unless you’ve never been to school, never seen TV, a newspaper, a magazine, a book, or heard anyone discussing Shakespeare, duh?!

‘carolo’, from Henley — comment on Eleanor Harding, ‘Alas, poor snowflakes’, MailOnline, 18th October 2017

screenshot of the BBC’s screenshot, taken from For full Notes on Courses entry please see foot of page.

Demetrius So, now go tell, an if thy tongue can speak,

Who ’twas that cut thy tongue and ravish’d thee.

Chiron Write down thy mind, bewray thy meaning so,

An if thy stumps will let thee play the scribe.

William Shakespeare, Titus Andronicus, 2.4.1-4

Ian You don’t want an accident. Think about your mum. And your brother. What would they think?

Cate I d- d- d- d- d- d- d- d- d- d- d- d- d- 

Cate trembles and starts gasping for air.

She faints. 

She laughs and laughs and laughs until she isn’t laughing any more, she’s crying her heart out.

She  collapses again and lies still.

Sarah Kane, Blasted

English literature undergraduates are being protected from the knowledge of, among other things, what one of Shakespeare’s plays is about, in case it upsets them. Will budding physicists soon be allowed to shield themselves from the shocking understanding of what a black hole really is, or what will happen to the Earth when the sun explodes?

David Mitchell, ‘The trouble with getting lost in your own world…’ The Observer, 22nd October 2017

Titus Ha, ha, ha!

Marcus Why dost thou laugh? It fits not with this hour.

Titus Andronicus, 3.1.263-4

“How do I know that the body of another is not entirely unlike my own — say, rubbery and numb rather than fleshy and sensitive? The seed of doubt raised by such questions […] is a matter repeatedly circled around and played upon in physical comedy.”

Alex Clayton, The Body in Hollywood Slapstick (London: McFarland & Company, 2007) pp. 173-4

“there were no gasps, no screams, and no requests for post-traumatic counselling. Uniformed sixth-formers tripped happily back on to their coach. 

     Could it just be that school children know better than Cambridge dons that a play is all about pretending, that it might just be allegorical?”

James Pembroke, ‘Trigger Unhappy’, The Oldie, 19th October 2017

“Violence – or the parody of violence. There’s a delicate distinction. The “injury laugh” must always be carefully calculated: if a blow seems to cause real pain, there will, usually, be no laughter.”

Tony Staveacre, Slapstick! The Illustrated History of Knockabout Comedy (London: Angus & Robertson, 1987) p. 41

“Aw. Diddums. Did the nasty fictional play upset you? *Fictional’ : Not true. * ‘Play’ : Not real.”

‘Travalinman’ — comment on Eleanor Harding, ‘Alas, poor snowflakes’, MailOnline, 18th October 2017

“At one of the most dreadful moments of King Lear, in which we have watched untold horror, a son tells his father who has had his eyes gouged out: ‘Men must endure their going hence, even as their coming hither.’ […] If we can not ‘endure’ reading or studying such works, how can we be expected to endure the very real tragedies which afflict our world — and to do so with the dignity of those we most admire?”

A. N. Wilson, ‘Cambridge students who need “trigger warnings” about sex and murder in Shakespeare may as well need Noddy’, MailOnline, 20th October 2017

“crazed drinking of neat alcohol, the sucking-out of human eyes, an explosion, racism, descriptions of adult violence to children, and a man being suspended by his testicles. 

    It could have been worse. He could have been forced to watch this baloney.”

Quentin Letts, ‘Blasted: Cannibalism and nudity. The Loony Left will love it!’, MailOnline, 4th November 2010

“‘Death isn’t the worst they can do to you,’ someone says. Yes. They could make you watch a Sarah Kane play.”

Quentin Letts, ‘Cliched prison play is torture for all concerned’, MailOnline, 24th February 2016

“I was many years ago so shocked by Cordelia’s death, that I know not whether I ever endured to read again the last scenes of the play till I undertook to revise them as an editor.”

Samuel Johnson, taken from Johnson on Shakespeare, vols VII and VIII ed. Arthur Sherbo (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1968) in The Yale Edition of the Works of Samuel Johnson (multiple vols, 1955-2010); vol VIII p. 704

“To see Lear acted, to see an old man tottering about the stage with a walking stick, turned out of doors by his daughters in a rainy night, has nothing in it but what is painful and disgusting” [my emphasis].

Charles Lamb, ’The Tragedies of Shakespeare’: originally published in The Reflector IV (1811); taken here from Charles Lamb on Shakespeare, ed. Joan Coldwell (Colin Smythe: Gerrards Cross, 1978) pp. 24-42, p. 36

(usually derogatory and potentially offensive). Originally: a person, esp. a child, regarded as having a unique personality and potential. Later: a person mockingly characterized as overly sensitive or easily offended, esp. one said to consider himself or herself entitled to special treatment or consideration.

Oxford English Dictionary online, ‘Snowflake’

Pathetic wasters, melt away you oxygen thieves….

Sir Pat’, Pontefract, United Kingdom – comment on ‘Alas, poor snowflakes: Cambridge University issues warning about sex and violence in Shakespeare and Greek tragedy – in case students get upset’, MailOnline, 18th October 2017

Oh that this too too solid flesh would melt,

Thaw, and resolve itself into a dew!

William Shakespeare, Hamlet, 1.2.129-30

Cate begins to tremble. Ian is laughing.

Cate faints.

Ian stops laughing and stares at her motionless body.

Sarah Kane, Blasted

‘The Limits of Slapstick’, third-year lecture and seminar series: full entry from Notes on Courses.