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Lectures on Shakespeare
Auden, W. H. (Wystan Hugh), 1907-1973.
Publication Information:
Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, [2000]

Physical Description:
xxiv, 398 pages ; 25 cm.
Added Author:
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PR2976 .A93 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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"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.

Author Notes

W. H. Auden, who was born in York, England, on February 21, 1907, is one of the most successful and well-known poets of the 20th century. Educated at Oxford, Auden served in the Spanish Civil War, which greatly influenced his work. He also taught in public schools in Scotland and England during the 1930s. It was during this time that he rose to public fame with such works as "Paid on Both Sides" and "The Orators."

Auden eventually immigrated to the United States, becoming a citizen in 1946. It was in the U.S. that he met his longtime partner Chester Kallman. Stylistically, Auden was known for his incomparable technique and his linguistic innovations. The term Audenesque became an adjective to describe the contemporary sounding speech reflected in his poems.

Auden's numerous awards included a Bollingen Prize in Poetry, A National Book Award for "The Shield of Achilles," a National Medal for Literature from the National Book Committee, and a Gold Medal from the National Institute of Arts and Letters. Numerous volumes of his poetry remain available today, including "About the House" and "City Without Walls."

W.H. Auden died on September 28, 1973 in Vienna.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

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.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Choice Review

In 1946-47, the 39-year-old Auden, already a major poet, gave a series of lectures on Shakespeare at New York's New School for Social Research, covering all but one (Titus Andronicus) of Shakespeare's plays. Some 50 years later, Kirsch (Univ. of Virginia), using the notes of Alan Ansen and three others who attended Auden's classes, has reconstructed those lectures along with notes from the discussion classes and the fall term final exam. Auden's quick and reflective mind is everywhere apparent in these essays, which speak knowledgeably and plainly about genre, structure, character, and verse. Auden finds parallels and comparisons in philosophy, mythology, psychology, and literature, admirably distilling and extending Shakespeare's own creative powers. 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. Reconstructing Auden's lectures was no easy task, yet Kirsch managed to turn what could have looked like a patchwork collaboration into an attractive record of Auden's authentic voice. Readers will be grateful for access to the wisdom of an especially astute poet who clearly knew Shakespeare. All collections. J. Schlueter Lafayette College

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. vii
Introductionp. ix
Lectures: Henry VI, Parts One, Two, and Threep. 3
Richard IIIp. 13
The Comedy of Errors and The Two Gentlemen of Veronap. 23
Love's Labour's Lostp. 33
Romeo and Julietp. 44
A Midsummer Night's Dreamp. 53
The Taming of the Shrew, King John, and Richard IIp. 63
The Merchant of Venicep. 75
Sonnetsp. 86
Henry IV, Parts One and Two, and Henry Vp. 101
Much Ado About Nothingp. 113
The Merry Wives of Windsorp. 124
Julius Caesarp. 125
As You Like Itp. 138
Twelfth Nightp. 152
Hamletp. 159
Troilus and Cressidap. 166
All's Well That Ends Wellp. 181
Measure for Measurep. 185
Othellop. 195
Macbethp. 208
King Learp. 219
Antony and Cleopatrap. 231
Coriolanusp. 243
Timon of Athensp. 255
Pericles and Cymbelinep. 270
The Winter's Talep. 284
The Tempestp. 296
Concluding Lecturep. 308
Appendix I Auden's Saturday Discussion Classesp. 321
Appendix II Fall Term Final Examinationp. 341
Appendix III Auden's Markings in Kittredgep. 347
Textual Notesp. 363
Indexp. 391