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Lectures on Shakespeare (W.H. Auden: Critical Editions) Hardcover – 3 Dec 2000

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 452 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (3 Dec. 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691057303
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691057309
  • Product Dimensions: 24.2 x 16.3 x 3.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,559,620 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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"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

From the Back Cover

"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

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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By "peterquinn2" on 26 May 2002
Format: Hardcover
This marvellous book, Lectures on Shakespeare, brings into book form a series of lectures given by Auden over fifty years ago to students in America. The book affords us the opportunity to share in Auden's thoughts about Shakespeare but also, and equally importantly, how his reading and understanding of Shakespeare adds to his own personal development. Auden brings his usual perceptive and poetic sensibility to his reading of the plays and sonnets in order to bring them to life. His readings are imaginatively grounded in psychological and sociological realities. These readings are mediated through authors whom Auden was reading at the time: Kierkegaard, Pascal, Buber, St. Augustine and Tillich for example.
These lectures on Shakespeare enable us to witness the mind of a great poet as he wrestles with meaning in his own life, and thereby extends to us, the reader, a helping hand, as we endeavour to make sense of our own lives. As usual in Auden's work, he is able to move seamlessly between the general and the particular. Auden at one point tells us that "Shakespeare's tragedies and comedies both turn on the idea of original sin and man's inveterate tendency to foster illusions, one of the worst of which is the illusion of being free of illusion, the illusion of detachment." He then offers us such insights like, " Iago is a saint manqué", or "Usually in tragedy a good person is made to suffer through a flaw in his goodness. In Macbeth this pattern is reversed: it is the streak of goodness that causes pathos and suffering." The book is replete with such aperçus. It is a book to be dipped into and savoured.
One of the lovely things about this book is the personal, conversational tone displayed. It is almost as if we are listening to the words of a friend.
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Format: Hardcover
I find that this is a book I can constantly return to. Auden writes about his love of Shakespeare from a very personal viewpoint. He is able to bring out the great depth and humanity of Shakespeare. One of the most charming elements of the book is the way Auden reveals his own warmth and wisdom in his discussions of the various plays. One of my own personal favourites is his essay on King Lear. I am a long time fan of this play but I find that Auden is able to bring his own very personal and distinctive insights to his reading of the tragedy. When I return to my own reading of King Lear, I find that I bring to it a whole new perspective. Auden in his lectures on Shakespeare brings a marvelloust richness and depth to my understanding of the plays and indeed sonnets of Shakespeare.
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By Handsel Woodcutter on 19 July 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
An invaluable supplement for the student Shakespearean. May be cross-referenced whilst reading the (also recommended) Norton Edition.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 10 reviews
38 of 40 people found the following review helpful
A unique opportunity 7 Dec. 2000
By A Customer - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Auden's lectures on Shakespeare may well have been lost forever were it not for Kirsch's diligence and care. The time and effort that must have gone into researching lectures given over 50 years ago, and not recorded by the lecturer himself, must have been staggering, but it has paid off. This book gives the reader a unique opportunity to better understand and enjoy two of the greatest writers in the English language. Kirsch's expertise and passion come across clearly as he frames the lectures brilliantly. Anyone with an interest in either Shakespeare or W.H. Auden will find this book interesting and illuminating.
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
Auden's lectures are enjoyable conversations on the plays 17 July 2002
By Cesar Cruz - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Reading each of Auden's lectures will not make you an expert on any aspect of the plays or poems - he doesn't aim to be comprehensive. Instead, Auden engages you in one or two key aspects from each play. Subsequently, the book could have been called "Conversations about Shakespeare."
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.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Quick and Collected 30 Jun. 2004
By M. Willett - Published on
Format: Paperback
What we read as Aristotle is actually nothing he wrote, but rather notes collected from students of his, compiled into something that looks like a lecture. This is exactly what we have here in the form on Auden's Lectures on Shakespeare. He gave a Shakespeare course at New College in New York one summer and this book is a transcription of some copious scribes and pupils. Let me say first that they are wonderful. Auden's insight is not only a poet's-though it is that-but a scholar's also, and one of such penetrating originality he makes these works appear sometimes without the heavy critical histories they worry under. This is aided by the fact that he reads all of Shakespeare's plays (one per week) for this course, even the lesser known ones, and also by the fact that the notes can't help but distill his lectures only into their most interesting points. As such, it seems that he effortlessly moves from one new vision to the next with a nonchalance that I can only assume is British, or else a character marking of someone so consistently called "Augustain." We know of Auden as a reader of Shakespeare primarily from his long poem about The Tempest, now we have another, more direct view of his reading.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Most enlightening and entertaining. 3 Nov. 2008
By Bruce Oksol - Published on
Format: Paperback
How fortuitous we are to have such a book! I just happened to stumble upon it browsing a discount book store and it is now one of my most precious finds.

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. Auden's comments - are precious: "The Merry Wives of Windsor is a very dull play indeed. We can be grateful for its having been written, because it provided the occasion of Verdi's "Falstaff," a very great operatic masterpiece. Mr. Page, Shallow, Slender, and the Host disappear. I have nothing to say about Shakespeare's play, so let's hear Verdi."
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
An astonishing piece of literary detective work 21 May 2002
By Kevin Brianton - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Imagine trying to assemble lectures made close to 50 years ago from assorted notes and other papers. This is what Kirsch has managed to achieve in an excellent book that is superbly edited and written. W.H. Auden appears as a sensible and balanced critic of Shakespeare and his observations are always telling. I really like his chapter on Macbeth even though Auden claims that he has nothing to offer. I am just so pleased that Kirsch took the time to research and compile this book. An intense labour of love that will repay countless readings.
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