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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
I would highly recommend this book to anyone with even the slightest interest in Shakespeare.
You will not always agree with everything he has to say, but it makes for some thought provoking and interesting ideas on his take of the work.
This is what Kirsch has managed to achieve in an excellent book that is superbly edited and written.
In 1945-46 Auden gave a course of lectures on Shakespeare, and, of course, it is a very interesting reading. Read morePublished 6 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 24 months ago 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