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Shakespeare's neglect?

July 22, 2009 |  2:10 pm


In Paul Collins' "The Book of William," which Nicholas A. Basbanes reviewed in Wednesday's L.A. Times, we learn about the highly sought First Folio of 1623, a collection of Shakespeare's plays that never would have taken shape if it had been left up to the Bard. Collins writes how scholars are astonished by Shakespeare's neglect of his own work. "How," these scholars wonder, "could a man throw everything he'd done into the abyss ... and not leave his own manuscripts behind?"

Collins offers this commonsense explanation:

Scholars wonder at this; but not, I think, working writers. Anyone who must live off their words -- and I mean live off them, in fear of life and landlord from one story to the next -- is by necessity unsentimental about their old work. The stuff rather piles up. After a few years you don't even feel much kinship to it: you have moved on to the next book, the next play, the next story, the next fee, the next month's rent. An artist must keep his momentum, his ability to move on to the next profitable work. Shakespeare had a family to support and a business to run, and his business just happened to involve a great deal of writing....

At the blog Gumbo Writer, Angie Ledbetter offers some thoughts on whether or not to keep one's old work in a recent interview with Harvey Stanbrough. In response to Sylvia Plath's opinion that "nothing stinks like a pile of unpublished writing," Stanbrough argues that some writing just needs to sit around and gestate a while. I think he misses the point -- Plath was talking about finished work, not drafts -- but it's still a good issue to consider.

What do you think? Are you keeping a finished novel in the desk drawer that is going to stun readers one day, or are did it go into the recycle bin?

-- Nick Owchar

Photo: Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times