I’m a new teacher. I’ve had about 32 undergraduate students for whose education I was responsible. I taught them Faustus, Romeo and Juliet, Paradise Lost, and the poetry of John Donne, among others. I want to teach more. I’m not a natural and I didn’t love every single second but it is a skill I am pursuing.
I know I have the stink of the inexperienced and idealistic as well as coddling tendencies, but when recently challenged to think about the politics of my practice as a baby academic my one thought was:
One day I may teach Titus Andronicus to a rape survivor.
Am I capable of making my classroom a safe space? Is there even a care-conscious way I can ask a survivor to engage with this text (and others)?
Rape of women in Early Modern drama and literature is a tangle of rhetorical and social anxieties couched in an act which is simultaneously an atrocity and a titillation. Real historical evidence about the extent to which female consent was respected is scant (I think) and even where it exists its impact on dramatic and literary representations seems minimal. Like today, rape was seen as technique for ramping up the tension or setting the stage for the pathos of the victim and the indignation of husbands and fathers.
As a teacher I can emphasize the rhetorical, dramatic, historical significance of rape till my tongue falls out but I’ll still have done damage to a student for whom this is not a theoretical trope or a far-off example of misogyny but a lived trauma. I’d want to believe that there is no literature or drama so unacceptable it can no longer be studied, but the conclusion could very well be “if a text is triggering your students don’t make them work on it”. If that’s the case I need to defend that message in my teaching.
So I’m thinking of finding a place where people—teachers of EM literature and drama, students, and survivors who might have dealt with just this—are talking about it. I don’t know if it’s a conversation already going on in academia or in the tumblrsphere. If it is, point me to it. If its not, and there are people and survivors who have the spoons for it, maybe we can start?