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Shakespeare (NYRB Classics)
Shakespeare (NYRB Classics)
Foreword by: David Lehman
Publisher: New York Review Books
Series: NYRB Classics
# of Pages: 302
Pub. Date: 2005
About the Book:
This legendary book by an esteemed poet and beloved professor at
Columbia University features a series of smart, witty, deeply
perceptive essays about each of Shakespeare's plays, together with a
further discussion of the poems.
From the 1920s through the 1960s, Mark Van Doren was one of
the most respected professors at Columbia University — which would
later name its "Great Teacher" award after him. His
Shakespeare classes are the stuff of legend. He used no notes. He
would open a book and begin dealing with a particular passage. His
mode was conversational. You would see very little note taking; there
was too much in the way of thoughtful and easy-flowing talk to dwell
on. Often, he would single out an individual student and draw him
into the conversation. He sometimes stayed with such a student
through much of the hour, drawing out thoughts the student himself
had not dreamed he had.
Mark Van Doren, himself a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, had
been teaching his popular course on Shakespeare for seven years when
a colleague convinced him to collect his thoughts in a book. Each
play would get a chapter, and there would be an additional chapter
devoted to the sonnets and other poems. Each chapter would be written
in a sustained burst of concentrated energy. He kept his students in
mind as he wrote. "Things they had said to me, things I had
said to them and things they now might learn for the first time as I
myself was learning them" all went into the writing.
Published to great acclaim in 1938 — The New
York Times welcomed it as "by far the best modern
commentary" — Shakespeare draws on this master
teacher's long years in the classroom to present a play-by-play
account of the works of the Bard, with an added chapter on the poems.
Writing with an incomparable knowledge of his subject but without
a hint of pedantry, Mark Van Doren elucidates both the
astonishing boldness and myriad subtleties of Shakespeare's protean
art. W. H. Auden is quoted in David Lehman's foreword:
"Professor Van Doren enlightens us, not because he has any
special knowledge or private advantages, but because his love of
Shakespeare has been greater than our own." His Shakespeare
is an indispensable and beautifully written book to be treasured by
both new and longtime students of the Bard.
What people say:
in 1939, this essay collection is recommended for readers who, having
just read or seen one of Shakespeare's plays, are in search of a
short but thoughtful interpretation." — Library
Doren's Shakespeare got me through Harry Levin's [Harvard] course
back in 1951. Whenever I read a Shakespeare play I reread what Van
Doren said about it." — John Updike
during my stay at Columbia I had met only Mark Van Doren and his
work, it would have been worth the trouble."
— Delmore Schwartz
"It was the force of his
example that made me a poet." — John Berryman
About the Author:
Mark Van Doren (1894-1972)
was an American poet, writer, and eminent teacher. As a teacher at
Columbia University for nearly forty years, he exercised a profound
influence on generations of students, including Thomas Merton, John
Berryman, and Allen Ginsberg. He was literary editor of The Nation
and president of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Among his
books are critical biographies of such writers as Dryden and
Hawthorne; a study of epic poetry, The Noble Voice; several plays; an
auto-biography; novels; and many volumes of poetry, including the
Pulitzer Prize winning Collected Poems, 1922-1938.
David Lehman is a poet and
the series editor for The Best American Poetry series. He teaches at
The New School in New York City.