Monday, February 21, 2011

Greenblatt on Shakespeare's Revisions

In the February 5-6, 2011, edition of The Wall Street Journal, scholar Stephen Greenblatt considered how literary genius meshed with the need to revise in the life of Shakespeare. Excerpts:
If you write as I do -- with a succession of false starts and crossing-out and second-guessing that haunts virtually every sentence -- it is easy to get discouraged and to imagine that real writers are exempt from the whole tiresome business. Each of your own paragraphs is achieved in something like trench warfare, two inches forward, one inch back. For the blessed few, the words must simply flow.

Shakespeare was reputed to have written with such amazing confidence -- in a world of goose-quill pens and lamp-black ink -- that even his first drafts were fair copies. ... The notion that Shakespeare rarely revised his work makes perfect sense. Here, after all, was a man who wrote, on average, two plays a year, acted in his own plays and those of others, penned sonnets, and helped to run a theater company, to say nothing of his many other business interests. ...

Apparently, however, he did find the time.
Read the whole thing. Not only does Greenblatt provide an interesting example of textual criticism, he also reminds us that the creative luminary of the English language left behind manuscripts riddled with "literally thousands of these tiny changes." How much it encourages me to think that the same process of producing these little blog posts, the tortuous back-and-forth winding of composition and revision, was at work in The Bard himself. Even geniuses had to sweat.

(Picture: CC 2007 by


pattinase (abbott) said...

Just read this to my husband who loved Will in the World. Thanks!

Loren Eaton said...

Yay! Glad you both liked it.

Anonymous said...

It is reassuring to think that even the best writers have to work hard at it. I was once told by a teacher that he found a copy of a bunch of early short stories written by classic American writers and they were all mediocre. This made all the students hopeful.

Loren Eaton said...

Heck, forget the students, that encourages me. Genius exists, but it helps to know that it requires effort to bring it forth. Thanks for sharing.