Writer’s Desk: Shakespeare Wrote on Deadline, Too

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For his essay on the somewhat nonsensical tendency for modern authors to keep reinterpreting the plays of Shakespeare, Adam Gopnik pointed out this about the Bard:

Shakespeare grabbed his stories more or less at random from Holinshed’s history of Britain and Plutarch and old collections of Italian ribald tales. As the “ordinary poet” of a working company of players, he sought plots under deadline pressure rather than after some long, deliberate meditation on how to turn fiction into drama. “What have you got for us this month, Will?” the players asked him, and, thinking quickly, he’d say, “I thought I’d do something with the weird Italian story I mentioned, the one with the Jew and the contest.” “Italy again? All right. End of the month then?” These were not the slow-cooked stories and intricately intertextual fables of the modern art novel.

In other words, we would all do well to remember that even Shakespeare had to write on deadline, for money, and while keeping an eye toward putting asses in seats. He was a great writer, one of our greatest, but a working writer, too.

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