“Trigger Warnings” for Hamlet


This week the British publication The Guardian reported that “Students in America have been asking for “trigger warnings” to be included on works of literature which deal with topics such as rape or war.”  Works that were of concern to students at the University of California at Santa Barbara included Things Fall ApartMrs. Dalloway, and The Great Gatsby, all of which I have taught.  This demand for fair warning so that those who have been traumatized can adequately prepare for the shock of what they read assumes that having something in a syllabus (which may or may not be read by students anyway) will insulate students from the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune that may come up in any given text.

I’m not so sure.
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On Conversation Hearts

SONY DSCValentine’s Day is a day it’s okay to hate. For some, it’s the day dedicated to force-fitting the expression of genuine feelings into social expectations, without appearing saccharine or heartless, weird or trite, forced or routine. For some who will spend the day in solitude, it’s that special occasion when you find exceedingly trivial others’ frustrated attempts to find a satisfactory gift and dinner reservation, in comparison either with your own loneliness, or with the crude social assumption that, since you are alone, you must be lonely. It’s the day for publicizing love, for turning your heart inside out, for romantic one-upmanship. Like it or not, that intrusive co-worker will probably ask you about your Valentine’s Day on February 15. This year, thank goodness, the day of reckoning falls on a Saturday.

No one in my acquaintance has ever complained to me about Grandparents’ Day or Black History Month, but then again, Grandparents’ Day and Black History Month don’t demand as much of us. They don’t assault our senses in grocery stores, movie theaters, and shopping malls. Perhaps it’s because I’m neither a grandparent nor of African descent, but I’ve never been disappointed after those commemorative occasions. To object to either would be to court contempt unnecessarily, but everyone is permitted to hate Valentine’s Day, an awkward pink-and-red experience in which every couple is expected to participate, but which every individual—coupled or not— is permitted to deplore. Continue reading

Hamlet’s Homework; or, the Wit of “Wittenberg”

Hamlet-Laurence-Olivier-1ci8ee1A few weeks ago I went to see a play that I cannot get out of my head.  “Wittenberg,” by David Davalos, considers Hamlet before things go terribly wrong–before his father has been murdered, before his slutty mother marries his corrupt uncle, before Ophelia has sipped the Kool-Aid and started taking orders from men besides Hamlet.  You know, in the days when everything was going his way, and he could flirt with tennis scores and vows of chastity, the time when anything and everything was game because nothing really bad had happened.  At least not yet.

“Wittenberg” is set where Hamlet went to college, and the two professors vying for his attention and intellectual fealty are none other than Dr. Faustus and Martin Luther.  Dr. Faustus is witty and imaginative.  He plays the guitar, he reels you in.  Martin Luther is preachy, but I bet you already knew that. Continue reading