Synopses & Reviews
"W. H. Auden, poet and critic, will conduct a course on Shakespeare at the New School for Social Research beginning Wednesday. Mr. Auden has announced that in his course . . . he proposes to read all Shakespeare's plays in chronological order." The New York Times reported this item on September 27, 1946, giving notice of a rare opportunity to hear one of the century's great poets comment on one of the greatest poets of all time. Published here for the first time, these lectures now make Auden's thoughts on Shakespeare available widely.
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.
"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.
Table of Contents
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
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
Troilus and Cressida 166
All's Well That Ends Well 181
Measure for Measure 185
King Lear 219
Antony and Cleopatra 231
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