chapter  5
13 Pages

The lost performance: Giannozzo Manetti and spoken oratory in Venice in 1448


The differences between preserved copies of historical speeches and their original spoken performances have eluded full understanding by historians of the Renaissance. The assumption has typically been that written and oral versions of speeches were similar – after all, if the words preserved were different than those spoken then it becomes difficult to make arguments about the reception of the ideas or the learned expectations of the audience for a speech. If different, the preserved speech becomes simply another written text – complete with the limited wealthy, literate audience for such texts, rather than the more diverse audience for a spoken performance. In short, historians have been forced to assume content and stylistic proximity between preserved speeches and their original performances and then to hope that an orator’s polishing before publication did not significantly alter the words of the original.1 Yet the unusual abundance of documentation for a speech delivered by Giannozzo Manetti in 1448 allows historians to peek past the preserved Latin version of the speech and catch glimpses of the original Italian spoken performance. This analysis reveals not only the differences between an original oral speech and its written record, but also different assumptions about the oral versus written word, the power inherent in hearing rather than reading Italian or Latin words, and the expectations about how a diplomat’s oral performance would compare with his or her written instructions.