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Mr. Bower's descriptions are entertaining and enlightening. Chicamauga isn't about strategy, it was a soldiers fight. What mattered was the character of the men involved. This book goes into the details. I cannot recommend this more highly.
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The examination of the works here is purely literary. The works are examined in minute detail. For example, in "The Metamorphosis," Nabokov goes to some length to determine what insect Gregor became. Not a cockroach, as some suggest, but rather a beetle. And he draws pictures. He wants us to understand the layout of the rooms in the Samsa flat. The devil -- that is, the art -- is in the details. Some might object that there is more to some of these works than is discerned by such a point of view. Granted, but nothing precludes looking elsewhere for (say) a more philosophical treatment of "The Metamorphosis," or God forbid, thinking about it on one's own.
In his closing comments, Nabokov says, "In this course I have tried to reveal the mechanism of those wonderful toys -- literary masterpieces. I have tried to make of you good readers who read books not for the infantile purpose of identifying oneself with the characters, and not for the adolescent purpose of learning to live, and not for the academic purpose of indulging in generalizations. I have tried to teach you to read books for the sake of their form, their visions, their art. I have tried to teach you to feel a shiver of artistic satisfaction, to share not the emotions of the people in the book but the emotions of its author -- the joys and difficulties of creation. We did not talk around books, about books; we went to the center of this or that masterpiece, to the live heart of the matter."
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For one thing, this is one of those cases, not uncommon in Shakespeare's comedies, in which the play has suffered a great deal by the changes in the language since Shakespeare's time; it loses a great deal of the humor inherent in a play when the reader needs to keep checking the footnotes to see what's happening, and this play, particularly the first half of it, virtually can't be read without constant reference to the notes; even with them, there's frequently a question as to what's being said. At least in the edition that I read (the Dover Thrift edition) the notes frequently admit that there's some question as to the meaning of the lines, and there is mention of different changes in them in different folios.
But beyond this, as an overweight, balding, middle-aged libertine, I object to the concept that Falstaff is ridiculous just because he is in fact unwilling to concede that it is impossible that a woman could want him. Granted, he's NOT particularly attractive, but that has more to do with his greed, his callousness, and his perfect willingness to use people for his own ends, to say nothing of his utter lack of subtlety.
Is it truly so funny that an older, overweight man might attempt to find a dalliance? So funny that the very fact that he does so leaves him open to being played for the fool? Remember, it isn't as though he refused to take "no" for an answer; he never GOT a "no". He was consistently led on, only to be tormented for his audacity. Nor is he making passes at a nubile young girl; the target of his amorous approaches is clearly herself middle-aged; after all, she is the MOTHER of a nubile young marriageable girl. And given the fact that she is married to an obnoxious, possessive, bullying and suspicious husband, it is not at all unreasonable for Falstaff to think that she might be unhappy enough in her marriage to accept a dalliance with someone else.
If laughing at fat old men who have the audacity not to spend the last twenty years of their lives with sufficient dignity to make it seem as if they were dead already is your idea of a good time, you should love this play. I'll pass.
Sir John Falstaff is once again such a fool - but a lovable and hilarious one at that. Having read Henry V - where Falstaff ostensibly had met his end - I was pleased to see him so alive(pardon the pun) in this short, albeit clever play. It is no surprise that The Merry Wives of Windsor enjoyed such a long and successful stage run during Shakespeare's day and continues to be one of his most popularly staged plays. Recommended as a fun break from the more serious and murderous Shakespearean tragedies.
"Why, then the world's mine oyster,
Which I with sword will open." - Pistol