University of Cape Town
2022-05-30_RETAGS-SPEAKER-SERIES_Dr-McConnell.mp4 (130.97 MB)

ReTAGS Speaker Series | Act 5 | Dr Justine McConnell

Download (130.97 MB)
posted on 2022-06-03, 09:04 authored by Mark FleishmanMark Fleishman, Justine McConnell

Act 5 of the ReTAGS Speaker Series.

"‘Using the old names anew’: Derek Walcott and Graeco-Roman Antiquity"

In this Speaker Series, Dr Justine McConnell explores the ways in which the St Lucian poet and dramatist, Derek Walcott, winner of the 1992 Nobel Prize for Literature, re-imagines tragedy, epic, and the myths they retell.

Derek Walcott once declared, ‘What is needed is not new names for old things, or old names for old things, but the faith of using the old names anew’. For Walcott, this is a strategy that – far from signalling a derivative aspect in his writing – nurtures the creation of new work that recasts older forms without being overshadowed by them. Famously, Walcott denied that his book-length poem Omeros was an epic, but he went on to qualify that statement by asking us to rethink what we understand by ‘epic’. So too, the title of his drama The Isle is Full of Noises evokes Shakespeare’s The Tempest, but the tale it tells is also of a Philoctetes-figure nicknamed Crusoe and the modern exploitation of St Lucia in the name of tourism; and his early play Ione embeds a mashup of several Greek tragedies (Aeschylus’ Agamemnon and Seven Against Thebes, Euripides’ Medea and The Bacchae) within a context of Caribbean oral storytelling. 

Contesting the imperial power dynamics European works have often been used to propagate, Walcott contributes to the creation of a new body of Caribbean literature and asserts a place for Caribbean art in a global, transhistorical canon.

Presented online (Zoom meeting) on Monday 30 May 2022 at 15:00 SAST. Chaired by Prof. Mark Fleishman.


Justine McConnell is Senior Lecturer in Comparative Literature at King’s College London. She is author of Black Odysseys: The Homeric Odyssey in the African Diaspora since 1939 (2013), Derek Walcott and the Creation of a Classical Caribbean (forthcoming, 2023), and, with Fiona Macintosh, Performing Epic or Telling Tales (2020). She has also co-edited four books on the reception of Graeco-Roman antiquity.



Centre for Theatre, Dance and Performance Studies