British Theatre Adds Trigger Warning to Shakespeare’s Macbeth

A London theatre has added a ‘trigger warning’ to its production of William Shakespeare’s 415-year-old play Macbeth, because it contains scenes of violence, suicide, fake blood, and smoking.

The Almeida Theatre in north London includes this “content warning”: “This production includes extreme scenes of violence, including violence against children, suicide, and the use of blood, firearms and knives. It also contains flashing lights, vaping and the smoking of real cigarettes.”

It further directed viewers to the Samaritans suicide charity “if you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this production” of the over-400-year-old play, which as The Times noted, is considered suitable for children and often taught in school to eight-year-olds.

It is one of the better-known plays in Shakespeare’s canon, with even those who have not seen the play likely to be familiar with the plot, much like that of Romeo and Juliet, which also found itself subject to a trigger warning at the Globe Theatre earlier this year.

Sited on the grounds of Shakespeare’s original theatre, the Globe in London issued a trigger warning for its summer performance of Romeo and Juliet, warning audiences that it contained drug use, fake blood, and perhaps the most well-known themes of the famous play, suicide. The Globe Theatre also directed viewers to the Samaritans and another mental health charity.

“This production contains depictions of suicide, moments of violence and references to drug use. It contains gunshot sound effects and the use of stage blood. If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this production of Romeo and Juliet, please find details below of organisations offering advice and support,” the warning had said at the time.

Former Conservative Party government minister and Brexit Party MEP Ann Widdecombe had noted: “You don’t go to see Romeo and Juliet if you want a light-hearted evening.”

It is not the first time that the Bard has been subject to trigger warnings, with students from the prestigious Cambridge University being given such content alerts before a 2017 lecture on Titus Andronicus and The Comedy of Errors because they contained themes on violence and sexual violence. Some academics had remarked that if English literature students are not aware what the plays are about, then perhaps they should not be studying at one of the top universities in the world.

Trigger warnings are intended to alert those who have suffered trauma to expect potentially shocking content before watching or reading material. In 2018, a Harvard University study claimed that trigger warnings only served to increase stress on the student population, saying: “Participants receiving warnings reported greater anxiety in response to reading potentially distressing passages, but only if they believed that words can cause harm.”

“Trigger warnings may inadvertently undermine some aspects of emotional resilience,” the researchers explained.

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