Shakespeare Solved ®

Shakespeare Solved ® is a forthcoming series of novels that covers the Bard's entire life and work.

These novels solve the mysteries surrounding Shakespeare by transporting us back in time, to walk in his shoes, and see his world through his eyes.

Only when we see Shakespeare in his original historical context can we understand what his plays and poems really mean.

This blog explains some of my ideas and discoveries, to prepare for this series of novels.

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Friday, October 20, 2017

Shakespeare & Trigger Warnings

TRIGGER WARNING: This blog article is about things that might offend some people.

I guess it was just a matter of time.

One of the most prestigious universities in the world issued “Trigger Warnings” for Shakespeare.

Students at Cambridge University were warned about "potentially distressing topics" in some of Shakespeare’s plays. Those cautions were written because the students would be exposed to the topics of “sexual violence” and “sexual assault” in Shakspeare’s plays — particularly Titus Andronicus and The Comedy Of Errors.

The matter of “Trigger Warnings” for university students all over the world is not new.

However, to my knowledge this is the first time that such cautions are taken in regards to the Bard.

Last year, several UK universities issued such warnings, for lectures that included these subjects: Christianity, popular culture, history, forensic science, photography, politics and law.

The warnings were given in advance of lectures, in order to allow students the choice whether or not to attend the lecture.

I have some advice for any university students who chose to avoid such subjects, and did not attend the lectures with “disturbing” subject matter — you are literally robbing yourself of a future.

If you believe that you would be disturbed by learning things that challenge you, then you have no future. 

Titus Andronicus
Inszenierung von Holger Hoppla Pester 2009
Wikimedia Commons

It is only by learning about those subjects which have been taught for centuries, by studying the past, what has preceded you, that there is any future for you, or for our civilization.

If you don’t know the past, then the future is closed to you. You are putting yourself in a prison of your own making, and locking away your freedoms.

I am not trying to minimize or marginalize the importance of sexual assault or sexual violence — on the contrary, it is essential to know what that means.

But how do you know what that means, unless you learn more about it?

If you think that avoiding a discussion of these subjects will distress you, and you want to be protected from such violence and threatening language — you are in fact making yourself more vulnerable to such attacks.

How can you enjoy a healthy sexual life, unless you know what to watch out for, and what to avoid?

How can you know what true love is, unless you know how bad, and how dangerous love might be?

True Love is real and it is wonderful. The world is a truly wonderful place. But we should not give our hearts to anyone, and we should always take precautions because the world has its dangers.

I have some advice -- please learn. Knowledge is power.

I have some more advice — read Shakespeare. All of his work, every play and poem.

Titus Andronicus
Landesb├╝hne Niedersachsen Nord, Saison 2004/2005, Regie: Reinhardt Friese
Wikimedia Commons

Hopefully, by reading Shakespeare, you will learn — and not just about his work and his subject matter. No, hopefully by reading Shakespeare, you will come to understand why his work is truly important, and why it is truly vital. I hope you find the real truth in Shakespeare, and not what has been taught to you for the last 400 years.

His writing is not valuable because it is great poetry or great drama or because he created great characters, or because he has a great vocabulary.

Those are the obvious reasons why you should read his work.

No, you should read his work because he offers you advice, for today. He offers you a guide to life, no matter how perplexing it can seem to be.

Yes, you. Yes, today.

With every play and poem, he illuminates a path forward for you and me.

He is interrogating the past, as if he is some sort of detective who happened to come across a crime scene.

He is challenging Hamlet and Lady Macbeth and Juliet and Prince Hal to give him answers — Why did you do what you did? Why did you make so many mistakes, and do such bad things? — for the benefit of all of us.

He asks Hamlet why he couldn’t have done something, anything, to take revenge, without having so many people die. 

From Shakespeare’s inquiry of Hamlet, we learn that being cautious is wise, but being too cautious might lead to great ruin.

He asks Lady Macbeth why she drove her husband to murder and herself to insanity. 

From this we learn that ambition is good, but too much ambition can lead to disaster.

He asks Juliet, and Romeo for that matter, why they couldn’t have been more patient lovers. 

From this we learn that True Love is a wonderfully powerful thing, but too powerful for some people to manage.

He asks Prince Hal why he wastes his time in pubs with low-lifes, when he is meant for greater things. 

We learn that ambition is healthy, and too little ambition is a terrible thing.

There are so many more lessons to be learned, just from those four plays. You could spend the rest of your life reading Shakespeare’s works, and they will always reveal more truth to you over time.

As far as Titus Andronicus is concerned, it is a bloody play, filled with gruesome violence. Did Shakespeare create the play because he enjoyed violence?

No, he was trying to make it repulsive, in order to educate his audience. He did not want England to suffer from such violence, the kind of brutal warfare, and endless reprisals that characterized the whole of Roman history.

Tamora is one of the most fascinating characters in Shakespeare, who loved strong and intelligent women. 

Tamora is no one's fool. But she makes a fatal mistake, thinking that she knows better than anyone else. She therefore fools herself into thinking that she can defeat her own ambition.

Titus Andronicus
Transversal Theater Company production done in Utrecht, 2012
Wikimedia Commons

Lavinia is the opposite. She is sweet and innocent. She is victimized mercilessly, brutally.

What message is Shakespeare sending us with this character? Don't be innocent, don't be naive.

Therefore, it would seem that Shakespeare's advice to us today is to be not as presumptuous as Tamora, and not as naive as Lavinia.

But the greatest lesson to be found in reading Shakespeare is this: to learn is to be free.

Shakespeare did not write great works because he was afraid of the past, and of disturbing events and people from history. 

No, he was so curious about all of it. He wanted to know it all.

As he learned so much, it gave him a great sense of freedom. He was finally free to understand what was the best in us, by understanding the worst in us.

Only by learning was he able to understand great evil, and also then how to appreciate great good, great beauty, great love.

He began to process it and turn it into plays and poetry. He freed his mind so much, that he wanted to free others. He wanted to free you. Yes, you.

He didn’t want people to be uneducated, and enslaved by ignorance. He wanted people to be emancipated.

I worry today about “Trigger Warnings” because if you avoid disturbing subjects, you will become infantilized.

The more you allow yourself to be treated like a child, dependent on someone else’s care, the more you allow others to take away your freedom, your rights, your abilities.

If you put yourself in someone else’s hands, you deny yourself the opportunity to discover your true potential.

How can you find out if your are gifted, if you are given everything? 

How can you know if you have a musical talent, a literary talent, a talent for science — if you only listen to the music of others, only read books by other people, and only purchase the latest technology made by someone else?

How can you follow a dream, if you only watch others follow theirs?

In the Crito, Socrates thought that the State had the right to punish him however it saw fit, since the State had educated him at great expense.

Socrates was saying that he was not free — the State owned him, and could do whatever it wanted to him.

Socrates imagined that the State was saying to him: “you were … nurtured and educated by us, can you deny in the first place that you are our child and slave … ?”

The Greek word doulos means child and slave.

Socrates is teaching us that whoever you allow to educate you, they will try to own you.

If you educate yourself, then you become your own person. You own you. 

That is the freedom Socrates wanted for himself, and for anyone. Even you. Yes, you.

Instead of avoiding lectures at university, because of disturbing subject matter, you should attend every lecture, and challenge your teachers. You should not assume that they truly understand what they are teaching.

You should learn to understand what they teach, but you should also keep your own opinions.

As Shakespeare wrote, “To thine own self be true.”

Shakespeare’s plays and poems repeatedly and consistently teach us audience that we should know more — we should be exposed to the good and the bad and the evil, no matter how disturbing — in order to grow up, have minds of our own, and be free.

But don't take my word for it. Find out for yourself. Read some Shakespeare. Please.


David B. Schajer

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