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Lectures on Shakespeare by W. H. Auden

Lectures on Shakespeare (edition 2001)

by W. H. Auden

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Title:Lectures on Shakespeare
Authors:W. H. Auden
Info:Princeton University Press (2001), Hardcover
Collections:Your library
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Lectures on Shakespeare (W.H. Auden: Critical Editions) by W. H. Auden



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Far too pompous and long winded. Some accuse Auden of making things too common and accessible. Not only do I not agree that that is possible, I certainly do not agree he did it. Not in this book of lectures, anyway.

Shakespeare critical essays vary widely. They can go from simple reflections on what the author does and doesn't like about a given play, to meticulous, footnote infested, self-aggrandizing dissections of each and every single last aspect of every word of every play, complete with pages upon pages of references to other works, both related and far from related to Shakespeare.

These lectures are not in the latter category. Not quite, anyway. But they linger on that side of the continuum for certain.

It's all subjective. It's all someone's opinion. But when I want to hear what somebody thinks of a Shakespeare play, I really want to hear more about the play, and about Shakespeare, than about anything else. References to other works as guide posts are fine, but half an essay on King Lear should not be taken up by rehashing of Frued, Aeschylus, Marx, or whoever else it may be. Make your point about the plays themselves, as opposed to finding ways of pinpointing their universal truths in the writing of others. ( )
  TyUnglebower | Jun 28, 2014 |
Just finished reading Twelfth Night, so I turned to this book to see if Auden would expand my understanding of the play. He did, but not in the way I expected. The central theme of the essay on Twelfth Night is that this is a pretty unpleasant play, which is something I was dwelling on when thinking of how Malvolio is treated. So Auden didn't tell me much that I didn't pick up on my own... which I take as a vote of confidence in my reading ability!
  BrianDewey | Oct 19, 2007 |
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Henry James, in a review of some novels, said that "Yes, Circumstances of the interest are there, but where is the interest itself?"
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0691102821, Paperback)

After transplanting himself from England to the United States in 1939, W.H. Auden immediately became a kind of academic knight-errant, teaching at five different schools in as many years. Little evidence survives of most of these gigs. But in 1946, Auden gave a course on Shakespeare at Manhattan's New School, and luckily, several of the students attending took maniacally assiduous notes. Now Arthur Kirsch has collated the whole batch--and, one assumes, done some major nip-and-tuck work on this textual nightmare. The result is an insightful, eccentric, and perhaps essential slice of Bardolatry, which tells us as much about Auden as his subject.

Nobody can accuse Auden of parroting the party line on this greatest of English writers. In one of the nuttier moments in the lecture series, in fact, he expressed his distaste for The Merry Wives of Windsor by declining to say a word about it--instead he simply played a recording of Verdi's Falstaff for the perplexed audience. Elsewhere his tendency was to view Shakespeare's creations as flesh-and-blood characters rather than poetic constructs: "If Antony and Cleopatra have a more tragic fate than we do, that is because they are far more successful than we are, not because they are essentially different." He's harder pressed to locate any success stories in Julius Ceasar: the protagonist strikes him as a fading despot, Octavius is "a very cold fish," and Cassius "a choleric man--a General Patton." And sometimes, as in this discussion of Falstaff's role in the double-decker Henry IV, Auden spins off his own freestanding riffs, which amount to short prose poems on Shakespearean themes:

A fat man looks like a cross between a very young child and a pregnant mother. The Greeks thought of Narcissus as a slender youth, but I think they were wrong. I see him as a middle-aged man with a corporation, for, however ashamed he may be of displaying it in public, in private a man with a belly loves it dearly--it may be an unprepossessing child to look at, but he's borne it all by himself.
Auden would return to the Bard's terrain many times in his career, most notably in "The Sea and the Mirror." But for sheer penetration and puckish humor, Lectures on Shakespeare is hard to beat, and demonstrates that for all their differences, both the speaker and his subject had a crucial thing in common--what Auden calls "a fabulously good taste for words." --James Marcus

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:01:44 -0400)

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"Painstakingly reconstructed by Arthur Kirsch from the notes of students who attended, primarily Alan Ansen, who became Auden's secretary and friend, the lectures afford remarkable insights into Shakespeare's plays as well as the sonnets. A remarkable lecturer, Auden could inspire his listeners to great feats of recall and dictation. Consequently, the poet's unique voice, often down to the precise details of his phrasing, speaks clearly and eloquently throughout this volume. In these lectures, we hear Auden alluding to authors from Homer, Dante, and St. Augustine to Kierkegaard, Ibsen, and T. S. Eliot, drawing upon the full range of European literature and opera, and referring to the day's newspapers and magazines, movies and cartoons. The result is an extended instance of the "live conversation" that Auden believed criticism to be. Notably a conversation between Auden's capacious thought and the work of Shakespeare, these lectures are also a prelude to many ideas developed in Auden's later prose - a prose in which, one critic has remarked, "all the artists of the past are alive and talking among themselves."" "Reflecting the twentieth-century poet's lifelong engagement with the crowning masterpieces of English literature, these lectures add immeasurably to both our understanding of Auden and our appreciation of Shakespeare."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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