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Lectures on Shakespeare (W.H. Auden: Critical Editions) Paperback – September 29, 2002
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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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Occasionally, as in "Julius Caesar" or "King Lear," Auden is direct and focused. Here you will get a good, general view of these plays. But more often he dives into a theme, leaving the specifics of the play far behind. Reading some lectures I would ask myself, "Is he going to talk about the play or is he going to stick with this?" In the lecture about "As You Like It," he goes on for the first seven pages about the pastoral play. You would think this would be annoying, but Auden's easy manner keeps you hooked. Then in the end you will have learned something new, something special to Auden's perspective.
Some of the themes can be pretty high brow, but usually the are educational and entertaining. And this off-the-beaten-path approach is what makes the lectures unique.
If you're looking for the exact historical context of a play or a lengthy essay about some character, read the introduction from a paperback copy of a play. Auden's lectures will teach you a little extra you won't find anywhere else.
Who would have thought! W.H. Auden announces in "The New York Times" in late September, 1946, that he will offer a course on Shakespeare, lecturing once weekly, commencing in October and continuing through May, 1947.
The lectures were held at the New School for Social Research in Greenwich Village in the neighborhood where W. H. Auden lived. The lectures were enormously popular; tickets were sold at the door, and as many as 500 people attended, some coming quite a distance to hear the great poet speak.
Auden's material for these lectures is not available, but several students, one in particular, took very good notes, and the editor of this compilation, Arthur Kirsch, has done an outstanding job obtaining and editing the notes, making the collection a coherent, fascinating look at both W.H. Auden and Shakespeare.
Auden lectured on all the plays except "Titus Andronicus" and "The Merry Wives of Windsor," as well as on the "Sonnets."
The essays vary in length, some very short, and some quite long. It would be interesting to know if the lectures themselves varied in length; if so, some lectures might have been quite short.
I would strongly recommend reading Auden's lecture notes after one has a good understanding of the play being considered. These are not Cliffs Notes. These are essays on Shakespeare's plays by one of literature's foremost poets and critics. Alongside similar works by Harold Bloom, these essays are absolutely superb.
Others have alluded to Auden's lecture on "The Merry Wives of Windsor." The student's notes - W. H.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
In 1945-46 Auden gave a course of lectures on Shakespeare, and, of course, it is a very interesting reading. Read morePublished 15 months ago by E. Rabinovich
Auden is hilarious, at times brilliant and others a little scholarly for his takes on the plays. You will not always agree with everything he has to say, but it makes for some... Read morePublished on May 15, 2013 by K. Stanfa
Reading the lectures was as if I was in the room having the priviledge of hearing this brilliant and insightful man speak! Read morePublished on February 23, 2013 by violette
I do not recommend this book and want to make very clear why. For example, see the comments section appended to this review. Read morePublished on March 9, 2004 by John McConnell