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Explanation of the title
As Nabokov pointed out himself, the title of John Shade's poem is from Shakespeare's Timon of Athens: "The moon's an arrant thief, / And her pale fire she snatches from the sun" (Act IV, scene 3), a line often taken as a metaphor about creativity and inspiration. Kinbote quotes the passage but does not recognize it, as he says he has access only to an inaccurate Zemblan translation of the play "in his Timonian cave", and in a separate note he even rails against the common practice of using quotations as titles.
Some critics have noted a secondary reference in the book's title to Hamlet, where the Ghost remarks how the glow-worm "'gins to pale his uneffectual fire" (Act I, scene 5).
The title is first mentioned in the foreword: "I recall seeing him from my porch, on a brilliant morning, burning a whole stack of them in the pale fire of the incinerator...".
- Novel structure
- Plot summary
- Explanation of the title
- Initial reception
- Allusions and references