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The University of Hong Kong
“‘A disease that’s in my flesh that I must needs call mine’: Lear, Macbeth and the fear of futurity”

This talk offers a meditation on the terror of singularity as it manifests in Shakespeare’s King Lear (1606) and Macbeth (1611). It emphasizes the centrality of the child to ideas of futurity and argues that the source of Lear and Macbeth’s tragedy is bound up with ambivalence about the relationship between children and selfhood. Drawing upon Levinasian philosophy and psychoanalytic and queer theory, the talk approaches the tragedies as resources for understanding the different yet intertwined fears of handing power over to a future generation (King Lear) and of contending with the bleakness of mortality when you face the future in the absence of heirs (Macbeth). Through the figure of the tormented father (or would-be father) king, the talk traces the dark power of the parent-child relation especially by attending to characters who do not acknowledge that power.


Beth Harper is a literary scholar and post-doctoral fellow in the Society of Fellows in the Humanities at the University of Hong Kong. She works across classical and early modern European literature, and premodern Chinese literature and thought, with a special interest in form and aesthetics. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Shakespeare, English Studies, Comparative Literature: East & West and Postmedieval. She is at work on a book manuscript entitled The Lost Children of European Tragedy. Beth holds a PhD in Comparative Literature and Renaissance Studies from Yale, an MA in Classics and an MPhil in European Literature and Culture from St John’s College, Cambridge, and an MA in Sinology from SOAS, University of London where she was an HSBC scholar.