At the end of his Commentary Kinbote says that he may write a stage play:
I may pander to the simple tastes of theatrical critics and cook up a stage play, an old-fashioned melodrama with three principles: a lunatic who intends to kill an imaginary king, another lunatic who imagines himself to be that king, and a distinguished old poet who stumbles by chance into the line of fire, and perishes in the clash between the two figments. (Note to Line 1000)
Kinbote believes that, in its finished form, Shade¡¯s poem Pale Fire has 1000 lines and that Line 1000 is identical to Line 1 (¡°I was the shadow of the waxwing slain¡±). But it seems that Shade¡¯s poem also needs a coda, Line 1001 (¡°By its own double in the windowpane¡±).
In VN¡¯s novel Ada (1969) Marina Durmanov (Van¡¯s, Ada¡¯s and Lucette¡¯s mother, Daniel Veen¡¯s ¡°stage-struck wife¡±) has a set of a Thousand-and-One Best Plays in her boudoir:
Ada showed her shy guest the great library on the second floor, the pride of Ardis and her favorite ¡®browse,¡¯ which her mother never entered (having her own set of a Thousand-and-One Best Plays in her boudoir), and which Red Veen, a sentimentalist and a poltroon, shunned, not caring to run into the ghost of his father who had died there of a stroke, and also because he found nothing so depressing as the collected works of unrecollected authors, although he did not mind an occasional visitor¡¯s admiring the place¡¯s tall bookcases and short cabinets, its dark pictures and pale busts, its ten chairs of carved walnut, and two noble tables inlaid with ebony. (1.6)
According to Van, Marina wanted to transform the conversation at table into a lecture on the theater and only waited for an opportunity to trot out her troika of hobby horses:
At the third or fourth meal Van also realized something. Far from being a bright lass showing off for the benefit of a newcomer, Ada¡¯s behavior was a desperate and rather clever attempt to prevent Marina from appropriating the conversation and transforming it into a lecture on the theater. Marina, on the other hand, while awaiting a chance to trot out her troika of hobby horses, took some professional pleasure in playing the hackneyed part of a fond mother, proud of her daughter¡¯s charm and humor, and herself charmingly and humorously lenient toward their brash circumstantiality: she was showing off ¡ª not Ada! (1.10)
On Antiterra (aka Demonia, Earth¡¯s twin planet on which Ada is set) Pale Fire is a racing horse. As she speaks to Van, Lucette mentions a steeplechase picture of ¡®Pale Fire with Tom Cox Up¡¯ that hangs above Cordula¡¯s and Tobak¡¯s bed in their Tobakoff suite:
Quite kindly he asked where she thought she was going.
To Ardis, with him ¡ª came the prompt reply ¡ª for ever and ever. Robinson¡¯s grandfather had died in Araby at the age of one hundred and thirty-one, so Van had still a whole century before him, she would build for him, in the park, several pavilions to house his successive harems, they would gradually turn, one after the other, into homes for aged ladies, and then into mausoleums. There hung, she said, a steeplechase picture of ¡®Pale Fire with Tom Cox Up¡¯ above dear Cordula¡¯s and Tobak¡¯s bed, in the suite ¡®wangled in one minute flat¡¯ from them, and she wondered how it affected the Tobaks¡¯ love life during sea voyages. (3.5)
A set of a Thousand-and-One Best Plays in Marina¡¯s boudoir clearly hints at One Thousand and One Nights (also known as the Arabian Nights). Van compares Ada to Scheherazade (the storyteller in One Thousand and One Nights):
One day he brought his shaving kit along and helped her to get rid of all three patches of body hair:
¡®Now I¡¯m Scheher,¡¯ he said, ¡®and you are his Ada, and that¡¯s your green prayer carpet.¡¯ (1.35)
and to the pale fatal girl in another well-known melodrama:
Van, whose finger had been gliding endlessly to and fro along the mute but soothingly smooth edge of the mahogany desk, now heard with horror the sob that shook Demon¡¯s entire frame, and then saw a deluge of tears flowing down those hollow tanned cheeks. In an amateur parody, at Van¡¯s birthday party fifteen years ago, his father had made himself up as Boris Godunov and shed strange, frightening, jet-black tears before rolling down the steps of a burlesque throne in death¡¯s total surrender to gravity. Did those dark streaks, in the present show, come from his blackening his orbits, eyelashes, eyelids, eyebrows? The funest gamester¡ the pale fatal girl, in another well-known melodrama¡. In this one. (2.11)
Describing the family dinner in ¡°Ardis the Second,¡± Van mentions Marina¡¯s melodramatic make-up:
Her singularly coarsened features, her attire, that sequin-spangled dress, the glittering net over her strawberry-blond dyed hair, her red sunburnt chest and melodramatic make-up, with too much ochre and maroon in it, did not even vaguely remind the man, who had loved her more keenly than any other woman in his philanderings, of the dash, the glamour, the lyricism of Marina Durmanov¡¯s beauty. (1.38)
On the other hand, in Pale Fire Queen Disa (the wife of Charles the Beloved, the last king of Zembla) speaks to her husband and mentions forty Arabian thieves (an allusion to Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, a story from One Thousand and One Nights):
"What are your plans?" she inquired. "Why can't you stay here as long as you want? Please do. I'll be going to Rome soon, you'll have the whole house to yourself. Imagine, you can bed here as many as forty guests, forty Arabian thieves." (Influence of the huge terra cotta vases in the garden.) (Kinbote¡¯s note to Lines 433-434)
Disa, Duchess of Payn, ¡°of Great Payn and Mone¡± (Index to PF), seems to blend Leonardo¡¯s Mona Lisa with Shakespeare¡¯s Desdemona. In Ada Van calls Demonia (aka Antiterra) ¡°Desdemonia:¡±
That meeting, and the nine that followed, constituted the highest ridge of their twenty-one-year-old love: its complicated, dangerous, ineffably radiant coming of age. The somewhat Italianate style of the apartment, its elaborate wall lamps with ornaments of pale caramel glass, its white knobbles that produced indiscriminately light or maids, the slat-eyes, veiled, heavily curtained windows which made the morning as difficult to disrobe as a crinolined prude, the convex sliding doors of the huge white 'Nuremberg Virgin'-like closet in the hallway of their suite, and even the tinted engraving by Randon of a rather stark three-mast ship on the zigzag green waves of Marseilles Harbor - in a word, the alberghian atmosphere of those new trysts added a novelistic touch (Aleksey and Anna may have asterisked here!) which Ada welcomed as a frame, as a form, something supporting and guarding life, otherwise unprovidenced on Desdemonia, where artists are the only gods. (3.8)
Kinbote completes his work on Shade¡¯s poem and commits suicide on October 19, 1959 (the anniversary of Pushkin¡¯s Lyceum). In the last weeks of his life Pushkin, to divert his mind from dark thoughts, tried to learn the Arabic. In the margins of the draft of Pushkin¡¯s letter to Baron Heeckeren (d¡¯Anth¨¨s¡¯ adoptive father) there are characters of the Arabic alphabet.
Pushkin¡¯s letter of Dec. 1, 1826, to Alekseev (the poet¡¯s Kishinev pal) ends with the following little poem:
§±§â§à§ë§Ñ§Û, §à§ä§ê§Ö§Ý§î§ß§Ú§Ü §Ò§Ö§ã§ã§Ñ§â§Ñ§Ò§ã§Ü§Ú§Û,
§§å§Ü§Ñ§Ó§í§Û §Õ§â§å§Ô §Õ§å§ê§Ú §Þ§à§Ö§Û ¡ª
§±§à§â§Ñ§Õ§å§Û §Ø§Ö §Þ§Ö§ß§ñ §ß§Ö §ã§Ü§Ñ§Ù§à§é§Ü§à§Û §Ñ§â§Ñ§Ò§ã§Ü§à§Û,
§¯§à §â§å§ã§ã§Ü§à§Û §á§â§Ñ§Ó§Õ§à§ð §ä§Ó§à§Ö§Û.
Farewell, the Bessarabian recluse,
arch friend of my soul;
do gladden me not with an Arabian fairy tale,
but with your Russian truth.
In a letter to A. I. Turgenev Vyazemski called Pushkin bes arabskiy (¡°the Arabian devil,¡± a play on bessarabskiy, ¡°Bessarabian¡±). As he speaks to Van, Demon mentions his friend Bessborodko who is be installed in Bessarabia:
¡®Stocks,¡¯ said Demon, ¡®are on the zoom. Our territorial triumphs, et cetera. An American governor, my friend Bessborodko, is to be installed in Bessarabia, and a British one, Armborough, will rule Armenia. I saw you enlaced with your little Countess near the parking lot. If you marry her I will disinherit you. They¡¯re quite a notch below our set.¡¯ (2.1)
¡°Little Countess¡± mentioned by Demon is Cordula de Prey (who eventually marries Ivan G. Tobak, the ship-owner).