Lectures on Shakespeare by W. H. Auden

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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.


About W. H. Auden

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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. Kirsch is Alice Griffin Professor of English Emeritus at the University of Virginia.
Published January 15, 2000 by Princeton University Press. 452 pages
Genres: Literature & Fiction. Non-fiction

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Kirkus Reviews

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Auden also finds fault with Hamlet: He believes that Hamlet’s boredom compels him to act theatrically, and he suggests that the play was written out of spite against actors.

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Publishers Weekly

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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.

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London Review of Books

it is a ‘kind of writing that is not immediately noticeable, but anyone who practises verse writing returns again and again and again to such passages, more than to spectacular things .

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Project MUSE

The markings in Auden's copy of Kittredge's Complete Works of Shakespeare gave clues to quotations Auden may have included in the lectures, and Auden's later writings on Shakespeare, mainly in The Dyer's Hand, were also used as a resource.

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