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Housman Lecture 2017

Judith Butler

Maxine Elliot Professor in the Department of Comparative Literature and the Program of Critical Theory, University of California at Berkeley

Kinship Trouble in The Bacchae

Wednesday 8 February 2017, 18:00

Perspehone by Rossetti

The UCL Department of Greek and Latin regularly hosts a public lecture named in honour of its most celebrated professor (and poet) A. E. Housman and delivered by a scholar of international distinction. Our guest speaker this year is Professor Judith Butler.

Although contemporary lay readers of Classical Greek drama tend to focus on Oedipus and Antigone to query the internal complexities of kinship, Euripides' The Bacchae lends itself to queer readings of kinship that might not immediately seem obvious: the women famously abandon their domestic tasks and familial obligation; Dionysus shifts gender and exercises a great power of seduction and incitation over the women; and Pentheus cross-dresses, but is thought to be an animal, suffering a terrible fate. The boundaries between human animal seem to break down when the general laws of kinship no longer regulate desire and rage in the ways they are supposed to do.  What can The Bacchae tell us in the present about the fantasies of destruction that follow upon the breakdown of traditional kinship?  Are there flashes of queer kinship that emerge in this play, and where are they to be found?  Although some read the play as a morality tale extolling the dangerous possibilities that follow from abandoning traditional roles, others have celebrated the play as a feminist utopia. The task of this paper is to identify a queer ambivalence at the heart of the play, letting it guide our contemporary reflections on kinship, life, and death.

  • The lecture venue is the Logan Hall in the UCL Institute of Education, 20 Bedford Way, London WC1H 0AL (campus map and Google map).

Admission is free and all are welcome: please register on Eventbrite



A. E. Housman was a professor in the Department of Greek & Latin at UCL from 1892 until 1911, during which period he produced some of his most important scholarly work (including his edition of Juvenal and the first volume of his Manilius) and published his first and best known collection of poetry, ‘A Shropshire Lad’ (1896). Housman’s continuing reputation as a scholar and a poet is reflected in Tom Stoppard’s 1997 play The Invention of Love, which includes a dramatisation of AEH’s election to the chair of Latin in London.

Past speakers in the UCL Housman lecture series include Professors Pat Easterling (2005), Christopher Pelling (2007), Alessandro Barchiesi (2009), Stephen Hinds (2012), Eric Csapo (2013), Denis Feeney (2014), Leslie Kurke (2015), and Maurizio Bettini (2016). In November 2009 UCL celebrated the 150th anniversary of the birth of AEH with an evening of talks. David Butterfield, Stephen Harrison, Peter Howarth and Norman Vance spoke about Housman’s life, scholarship, poetry and place in Victorian culture.