Literature

Writing Without Drafts

In “Amadeus” (1984), Mozart’s wife Constanze, tells Antonio Salieri that she can’t leave the portfolio of her husband’s manuscripts with him because she came to meet him without his knowledge.

In the course of her conversation with him, it’s revealed that Mozart only made “fair copies.”

Salieri: Are you sure you can’t leave that music, and come back again? I have other things you might like.
Constanze: That’s very tempting, but it’s impossible, I’m afraid. Wolfi would be frantic if he found those were missing. You see, they’re all originals.
Salieri: Originals?
Constanze: Yes.
Salieri: These are originals?
Constanze: Yes, Sir. He doesn’t make copies.
Shakespeare is also said to have rarely revised his work. His penmanship bore no sign of the Bard’s hard literary toil.

In “Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare,” Stephen Greenblatt, a Shakespeare scholar, writes:

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.

In reality, though, his obsessive fiddling, led to thousands of tiny changes, literally, which he didn’t let the world know about.

He evidently had a stake in hiding all of the hard work that went into his apparent fluency. His was a culture that prized what the famous Italian courtier Baldassare Castiglione called sprezzatura, that is, nonchalance.

Castiglione understood that the only way to achieve this nonchalance—in writing as in dancing, riding, or telling jokes—was through fantastically painstaking revisions that all had to be carefully concealed.

h/t: WSJ

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