I'd like to point out an element of Nabokov's style in Pale Fire, which is his use of words like "obviously" and "evidently." These go a long way in creating the voice for Kinbote. They also often signal an irony, a joke which Kinbote isn't a part of, helping to reveal a reality which Kinbote is in conflict with. (I want to stress the joke aspect though: Nabokov is really funny, and I don't want that to get lost in academese.)
Here are a few examples:
“[...]for in his draft as many as thirteen verses, superb singing verses (given by me in note to lines 70, 79, and 130, all in Canto One, which he obviously worked at with a greater degree of creative freedom than he enjoyed afterwards) bear the specific imprint of my theme, a minute but genuine star ghost of my discourse on Zembla and her unfortunate king."
(From Note to Line 42)
This first one is fairly self-explanatory. We learn early on to distrust any Kinbote's evaluation of Shade's interest in Zembla. By the way, since Shakeeb Arzoo recently wondered about the lines "Old Zembla’s fields where my gray stubble grows / And slaves make hay between my mouth and nose," I'd like to point out the "degree of creative freedom" (as opposed to slavery) with regards to Zembla (above).
" 'I guess Mr. Shade has already left with the Great Beaver.' Of course, I am quite tall, and my brown beard is of a rather rich tint and texture; the silly cognomen evidently applied to me, but was not worth noticing, and after calmly taking the magazine from a pamphlet-cluttered table, I contented myself on my way out with pulling Gerald Emerald’s bowtie loose with a deft jerk of my fingers as I passed by him.”
I'm including this one, which I've mentioned before in the Great Beaver post. I remain convinced that there's no way to take seriously any claim that Gerald Emerald would assume Shade would be leaving together with Kinbote. Rather than revisit that old chestnut, I'd like to note the subtle comedy that characterizes Emerald's dialogue ("I guess") in contrast with Kinbote's ("Of course," "evidently"); and Kinbote's hilariously catty "not worth noticing."
"[...] and found in my coat pocket a brutal anonymous note saying: 'You have has..… s real bad, chum,' meaning evidently 'hallucinations,' although a malevolent critic might infer from the insufficient number of dashes that little Mr. Anon, despite teaching Freshman English, could hardly spell.”
(From Note to Line 62)
Here, as in the Great Beaver line (but without its controversy), Nabokov uses "evidently" to a similar effect, further developing Kinbote's voice and his ironic remove from a reality which shines through for us, so long as we take the hint and discover that the note is about his halitosis. As a counterpoint to the Great Beaver line, in which Kinbote "mercifully" refers to the instructor as "Gerald Emerald," the same person is here mercilessly called "little Mr. Anon."
Next, another line I haven't seen properly commented upon, for which I'll likely receive more pushback:
“Honest Starover Blue will probably be surprised by the epithet bestowed upon him by a jesting Shade. The writer feels moved to pay here a small tribute to the amiable old freak, adored by everybody on the campus and nicknamed by the students Colonel Star-bottle, evidently because of his exceptionally convivial habits. After all, there were other great men in our poet’s entourage—for example, that distinguished Zemblan scholar Oscar Nattochdag."
(From Note to line 627)
By now, "evidently" should at least give us pause. Is the reason for the nickname "Colonel Star-bottle" really Starover Blue's "exceptionally convivial habits?" If we go back to Lines 188-189, we find him described as "glum," and not at all as "convivial." To be blunt: I suspect he was buying the students alcohol. (See the opening to Colonel Starbottle's Client by Brett Harte, in which the convivial titular character, a lawyer at Starbottle and Bungstarter, buys mint juleps for himself and his client.) I see this as part of a much larger pattern of alcohol in Pale Fire, and I'll likely write up a bigger post on this soon, but feel free to weigh in now if you'd like.
Note also the play between "Great Beaver," "little Mr. Anon," and "great Starover Blue," with only the former capitalized.
As for the mention of Nattochdag, I think this should remind us of another inappropriate relationship with students:
“There was also the morning when Dr. Nattochdag, head of the department to which I was attached, begged me in a formal voice to be seated, then closed the door, and having regained, with a downcast frown, his swivel chair, urged me “to be more careful.” In what sense, careful? A boy had complained to his adviser. Complained of what, good Lord? That I had criticized a literature course he attended (“a ridiculous survey of ridiculous works, conducted by a ridiculous mediocrity”). Laughing in sheer relief, I embraced my good Netochka, telling him I would never be naughty again. I take this opportunity to salute him.”
I can think of a few more, but I'll cut this short. I don't mean to say that every single instance of these words is a key to something hidden, but it's always worth the extra care. That said, I'm curious whether the opening of the commentary contains some joke I'm missing: “The image in these opening lines evidently refers to a bird knocking itself out [...]" As Boyd (I think?) has mentioned before, Nabokov likes opening with a joke, and not always an obvious one — Pale Fire just happens to have a few openings (the first joke being 999 couplets). Now that I think about it, I guess "knocking itself out" is a completely inappropriate turn of phrase. Are there any other problems with that sentence you can think of?