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Lectures on Shakespeare (W. H. Auden


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Table of Contents

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS vii INTRODUCTION ix LECTURES Henry VI, Parts One, Two, and Three 3 Richard III 13 The Comedy of Errors and The Two Gentlemen of Verona 23 Love's Labour's Lost 33 Romeo and Juliet 44 A Midsummer Night's Dream 53 The Taming of the Shrew, King John, and Richard II 63 The Merchant of Venice 75 Sonnets 86 Henry IV, Parts One and Two, and Henry V 101 Much Ado About Nothing 113 The Merry Wives of Windsor 124 Julius Caesar 125 As You Like It 138 Twelfth Night 152 Hamlet 159 Troilus and Cressida 166 All's Well That Ends Well 181 Measure for Measure 185 Othello 195 Macbeth 208 King Lear 219 Antony and Cleopatra 231 Coriolanus 243 Tiynon of Athens 255 Pericles and Cymbeline 270 The Winter's Tale 284 The Tempest 296 Concluding Lecture 308 APPENDIX I: Auden's Saturday Discussion Classes 321 APPENDIX II: Fall Term Final Examination 341 APPENDIX III: Auden's Markings in Kittredge 347 TEXTUAL NOTES 363 INDEX 391

Promotional Information

What Auden has to say about Shakepeare's plays is almost always interesting, for two reasons. First, he knows how to praise or dissent, and to do so with much originality; secondly, he speaks of the ideas that were shaping his own thought and work at this important moment in his career, so that this book is as much a contribution to our understanding of Auden as it is to our appreciation of Shakespeare. It is beautifully edited and should interest all readers of Shakespeare and all admirers of Auden. -- Frank Kermode Auden's lectures on Shakespeare are a marvelous blend of steady, patient intelligence and stunning insight--spirited, free-thinking, resourceful, unintimidated, liberated from the air of treacly piety, and very, very intelligent. -- Stephen Greenblatt

About the Author

Arthur Kirsch, Alice Griffin Professor Emeritus at the University of Virginia, is the author of many books, including "The Passions of Shakespeare's Tragic Heroes" and "Shakespeare and the Experience of Love", and the editor of several others.


Given in 1946 at Manhattan's New School for Social Research, Auden's casually erudite, somewhat idiosyncratic lectures on Shakespeare's plays and sonnets may have been lost in manuscript but were not lost on members of his audience, several of whom took detailed enough notes for U.Va. Shakespeare scholar Kirsch to reconstruct the talks. Having already taught Shakespeare at several other American colleges and universities, Auden treats the plays with considerable familiarity, cutting down their characters to human size, sometimes even gossiping about them. This approach works better with the comedies, histories and "problem plays" than with the tragedies, which Auden generally finds less satisfying. "It is embarrassing to talk for an hour or an hour and half about great masterpieces," he complains before his self-assured lecture on the dramatic difficulties of King LearÄa work he considers "perfectly easy to understand." In a sense, the detached formalist in Auden is most in tune with the late romances, since these have the most distilled characterizations, simplified plots and technical mastery of verse. Ultimately, when a poet of Auden's rank takes on a subject as lofty as Shakespeare, there are just as many revelations about the former's preoccupations as insights into the latter. Auden's references to T.S. Eliot, Kierkegaard and Mozart uncover more about his own interests in Christianity and opera than Shakespeare's themes and language. Such digressive allusions didn't reduce these accessible lectures' popularity in their time, nor will they now that Auden's survey of the Bard has been recovered and translated into book form. (Jan.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.

"Auden penetrates to the very core of Shakespeare's originality, expressing himself in a crystalline analytical prose."--Kirkus Reviews "Auden's lectures can be read with profit not just as a commentary, but as an anthology of the best and most revelatory passages of Shakespeare."--Michael Potemra, National Review "A remarkably full account of what the poet said about Shakespeare but also about many other matters ... A remarkable achievement."--Frank Kermode, London Review of Books "Auden was no ordinary lecturer, as this collection shows ... Alive with his magpie-like intelligence, punctuated by humorous asides and digressive interludes, [the lectures] are as much a running commentary on the practices and preoccupations of a poet at the height of his own creative powers as they are an exposition of the works of another."--The Economist "Auden's quick and reflective mind is everywhere apparent in these essays... Through his insightful, often arresting comments on love, friendship, forgiveness, transformation, villainy, justice, responsibility, authority, and other life-defining concepts, Auden generates a template that teaches as much about experience as it does about Shakespeare's plays... Readers will be grateful for access to the wisdom of an especially astute poet who clearly knew Shakespeare."--Choice "Arthur Kirsch has artfully patched together a richly circumstantial and dramatic volume that brings the bizarre, playful, haunted Auden of these years vividly to life... Auden's Lectures on Shakespeare, miraculously speaking to us from another world, are crammed with ... illuminations, sparks of wit, suggestive pieces of poetic fancy."--Nicholas Jenkins, The New Republic "Anyone who cares about Shakespeare will enjoy this book, the finest by any English poet on the subject since (and I am not forgetting Coleridge) Dr. Johnson."--Lachlan MacKinnon, Daily Telegraph "In every way, Kirsch has produced a model of useful scholarship... To know Auden's work well is to acquire a liberal education. These lectures on Shakespeare are a good place to start."--Michael Dirda, Washington Post Book World "For anyone who has ever resolved in vain to sit down and read right through Shakespeare, this at last is the volume to help fulfil that resolution. But it is also a volume to place beside the family Shakespeare. In the best sense of the word it is masterly."--Christopher Murray, Irish Times

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