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Greek Theatre

4. The Bacchae

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About this Lecture


In this module, we think about Euripides’ Bacchae, focusing in particular on: (i) Pentheus’ matter-of-fact understanding of who he is, compared with the slipperiness of personal identity elsewhere in the play; (ii) the figure of Dionysus, whose appearance appears to change throughout the play and who generally defies categorisation; (iii) the central moment in the play where Dionysus appears to mesmerise Pentheus – or is he merely stripping away his inhibitions?; (iv) the prevalence of internal audiences in the play and the interplay between these audiences and the external audience; (v) the prevalence of misperception in the play – characters seeing things that aren’t there, and not seeing things that are there – and the extent to which we the audience are invited to mistrust what we can see; and (vi) the moral of the story – is Pentheus so wrong to try and maintain order in the city?


In this course, Professor Simon Goldhill (University of Cambridge) explores several aspects of Greek tragedy and comedy, focusing in particular on Sophocles’ Oedipus the King, Euripides’ Bacchae, and Aristophanes’ Frogs. The first module provides an introduction to Greek tragedy and comedy, focusing in particular on the particular time and place in which these plays were written and performed ¬– fifth-century Athens. In the second module, we think about the rituals and ceremonies that preceded the performance of the dramatic works themselves – and why they are important in how we think about tragedy and comedy. Each of the three modules after that focuses on a single play –Sophocles’ Oedipus the King, Euripides’ Bacchae, and Aristophanes’ Frogs – and we think about some of the play’s key issues and preoccupations. The sixth module provides some concluding thoughts on the genre as a whole.


Simon Goldhill is Professor of Greek Literature and Culture and a Fellow of King's College, Cambridge. His research interests include Greek Tragedy, Greek Culture, Literary Theory, Later Greek Literature, and Reception. His many publications include Reading Greek Tragedy (1986), Love Sex and Tragedy (2004), Victorian Culture and Classical Antiquity (2011), and Sophocles and the Language of Tragedy (2012), the last of which won the 2013 Runciman Award for the best book on a Greek topic, ancient or modern.

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Goldhill, S. (2020, September 03). Greek Theatre - The Bacchae [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Goldhill, S. "Greek Theatre – The Bacchae." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 03 Sep 2020,