Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0024686, Thu, 10 Oct 2013 20:41:44 -0300

Pale Fire, Kinbote and...King Lear?
ON March 2012 [ http://www.bookslut.com/features/2012_03_018834.php.] a curious connection between Kinbote and Shakespeare's tragedy "King Lear" has been elaborated by Kevin Frazier [ "Star-Crossed William Shakespeare and Vladimir Nabokov" Pale Fire: Between Timon and Lear. Features (p.4)
I had been looking forward to a novel approach to incest (Lawrence Olivier's final scenes with doomed Cordelia, for instance, or Jane Smiley's adaptation in "A Thousand Acres," or fuzzy insinutations in "Ada"*), but here we are treated to historical considerations that carry us from Lear to very real Kerenski, revolutions and assassination to end up in.Timon and thievery.

According to Kevin Frazier, "Nabokov gives us a premonition of Pale Fire and of Kinbote's link to Lear"in "a 1941 lecture at Stanford, when Nabokov invites the audience to "imagine someone apparently unexceptional: 'you happen to meet socially a person of perfectly normal aspect, good-natured although a little seedy, pleasant though something of a bore.' Then you find out that several years ago he was 'placed by force of circumstance at the head of some great revolution in a remote, almost legendary country, and that a new force of circumstance had soon banished him to your part of the world where he lingers on as the mere ghost of his past glory.[ ] Immediately, the very things about the man that had just seemed to you humdrum (indeed, the very normality of his aspect) now strike you as the very features of tragedy."[ ] Kevin Frazier adds: "Much of Nabokov's audience at the time would have understood that the modern Lear he had in mind was Alexander Kerensky. Kerensky's life and Nabokov's were intertwined[ ] Kinbote's dubious history as a deposed leader banished to America, 'where he lingers on as the mere ghost of his past glory' as a university professor, was partly an outgrowth of Nabokov's earlier stylization of Kerensky. Since at least 1941, Kerensky had been in Nabokov's thoughts as a potential Lear figure.[ ] Kerensky's resemblance to Lear is much greater than Kinbote's is. Really, Kerensky is to Kinbote as Lear is to Timon. Timon is, famously, Lear's lesser echo. He's Lear shrunk to a shriller, shabbier misanthropy. He's also the main character in a play that poses many of the same textual and authorship issues that Pale Fire poses. We still argue about the degree of Shakespeare's participation in Timon, and we still worry about the corruption of the text, which seems to be unfinished. And while Lear clings to Nabokov's conception of Pale Fire, still Timon is the source of the novel's title. [ ] But Timon doesn't place the emphasis on the reflection. He places it on the thievery. "The earth's a thief / That feeds and breeds by a composture stol'n / From gen'ral excrement." The theft is inescapable, innate. "Each thing's a thief. / The laws, your curb and whip, in their rough power / Has unchecked theft." Our relationships with others are theft, and anything we steal will be stolen in turn. "Love not yourselves; away, / Rob one another. There's more gold; cut throats, / All that you meet are thieves. To Athens go, / Break open shops; nothing can you steal / But thieves do lose."
But what's the thievery in Pale Fire? Is Kinbote stealing from Shade? Is Shade stealing from Kinbote? Shade's poem might really be Kinbote's poem. Kinbote's commentary on the poem might actually have been written by Shade.... "

Well, that's the gist of it. I searched through PF but, although there is a direct reference to King Lear**, it didn't carry me very far. The approach I was looking for would pass through Freud's "The Theme of the Three Caskets", the importance of counting three in fairy-tales (equally marked by VN) and the difficulty of aging gracefully and wisely (I now have TOoL in mind...)


* - "'We played mostly Scrabble and Snap,' said Van. 'Is the needy friend also in my age group?'

.'She's a budding Duse,' replied Demon austerely, 'and the party is strictly a "prof push." You'll stick to Cordula de Prey, I, to Cordelia O'Leary.' "

** - "The subject of teaching Shakespeare at college level having been introduced: "First of all, dismiss ideas, and social background, and train the freshman to shiver, to get drunk on the poetry of Hamlet or Lear, to read with his spine and not with his skull." Kinbote: "You appreciate particularly the purple passages?" Shade: "Yes, my dear Charles, I roll upon them as a grateful mongrel on a spot of turf fouled by a Great Dane."

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