No one knows for certain
how Shakespeare first started his career in the theatre, although several
London players would visit Stratford regularly, and so, sometime between
1585 and 1592, it is probable that young Shakespeare could have been recruited
by the Leicester's or Queen's men.
These companies consisted of a permanent
cast of actors who presented a variety of plays week after week. The companies
were commercial organizations that depended on admission prices for their
income. They staged most of the popular London plays. It is estimated
that Shakespeare arrived in London around 1588 and began to establish
himself as an actor and playwright.
However, whether it was an acting troupe
that 0recruited Shakespeare or whether he was forced on his own to travel
to London to begin his career, he was nevertheless established in London
by the end of 1592. For it was in that year that a pamphlet appeared with
an apparent reference to Shakespeare. This reference suggested he had
become both an actor and a playwright.
Between the early 1590s (The Comedy of Errors)
and the second decade of the seventeenth century (The Tempest written
in 1611), Shakespeare composed the most extraordinary body of works in
the history of world drama. His works are often divided into periods,
moving roughly from comedies to histories to tragedies and then to his
final romances capped by a farewell to the stage in The Tempest.
The question of how and whether the Bard's
career should be divided into periods aside, we do know that Shakespeare
received a major boost in 1592 (the earliest review of his work that we
have), when playwright-critic Robert Greene, wrote a letter attacking
theatre owners, actors, and writers who, he believed, had abused the talents
of university-educated playwrights, such as himself. Writing
"There is an upstart crow, beautified
with our feathers, that with his Tygers heart wrapt in a Players hide
supposes he is as well able to bombast out a blank verse as the best
of you; and, being an absolute Johannes Factotum, is in his own conceit
the only Shake-scene in a country."
The line "Tiger's heart wrapped in a
Player's hide" pokes fun at a line spoken by the Duke of York in
Shakespeare's Henry VI, Part III. The line is "O tiger's heart wrapped
in a woman's hide."
The letter was published in a pamphlet called
Greene's Groatsworth of Wit Bought with a Million of Repentance.) As a
number of leading Elizabethan literary figures expressed their admiration
for his early plays. Though, after Green's death, his editor, Henry Chettle,
publicly apologized to Shakespeare in the Preface to his Kind-Heart's
About three months since died M. Robert
Greene, leaving many papers in sundry booksellers' hands, among other
his Groatsworth of Wit, in which a letter written to divers play-makers
is offensively by one or two of them taken, and because on the dead
they cannot be avenged, they wilfully forge in their conceits a living
author....With neither of them that take offence was I acquainted, and
with one of them I care not if I never be. The other, whom at that time
I did not so much spare as since I wish I had, for that, as I have moderated
the heat of living writers and might have used my own discretion (especially
in such a case, the author being dead), that I did not I am as sorry
as if the original fault had been my fault, because myself have seen
his demeanour no less civil than he excellent in the quality he professes.
Besides, the diver of worship have reported his uprightness of dealing,
which argues his honesty, and his facetious grace in writing that approves
Records also tell us that several of
Shakespeare's plays were popular by this time, including Henry VI, The
Comedy of Errors, and Titus Andronicus. The company that staged most
of the early productions of these plays was Pembroke's Men, sponsored
by the Earl of Pembroke, Henry Herbert. The troupe was very popular
and performed regularly at the court of Queen Elizabeth. Most critics
conclude that Shakespeare spent time as both a writer and an actor for
Pembroke's Men before 1592.
The turning point in Shakespeare's career
came in 1593. The theatres had been closed from 1592 through 1594 due
to an outbreak of the plague and, although it is possible that Shakespeare
toured the outlying areas of London with acting companies like Pembroke's
Men or Lord Strange's Men, it seems more likely that he left the theatre
entirely during this time to compose long poems and at least some of his
sonnets. Also during this tumulus time that, Shakespeare and his company
made plans for the Globe Theatre in the Bankside district, which was across
the river from London proper
April 18, 1593, Shakespeare's long poem Venus
and Adonis was printed by Richard Field, a Stratford neighbour who had
become a London printer. Shakespeare dedicated the poem to 19-year-old
Henry Wriothesley, the Earl of Southampton. The poet may have believed
that the dedication would win him the earl's favour and support. Venus
and Adonis quickly became a success.
The dedication Shakespeare wrote to Southampton
at the beginning of the poem is impassioned and telling, "phrased
with courtly deference" (Rowse 74):
TO THE RIGHT HONORABLE HENRY WRIOTHESLEY,
EARL OF SOUTHAMPTON, AND BARON OF TICHFIELD.
I KNOW not how I shall offend in dedicating my
unpolished lines to your lordship, nor how the world will
censure me for choosing so strong a prop to support so weak a
burden only, if your honour seem but pleased, I account
myself highly praised, and vow to take advantage of all idle
hours, till I have honoured you with some graver labour. But if
the first heir of my invention prove deformed, I shall be
sorry it had so noble a god-father, and never after ear so
barren a land, for fear it yield me still so bad a harvest.
I leave it to your honourable survey, and your honour to your
heart's content; which I wish may always answer your own wish
and the world's hopeful expectation.
Your honour's in all duty,
Although there is no concrete proof that
Shakespeare had a long and close friendship with Southampton, most scholars
agree that this was the case, based on Shakespeare's writings, particularly
the early sonnets.
Field printed Shakespeare's next long poem,
The Rape of Lucrece, in 1594. Shakespeare also dedicated this poem to
the Earl of Southampton. The wording of the dedication suggests the possibility
that the young nobleman had rewarded the author, probably financially,
for his dedication in Venus and Adonis.
Both poems went through many editions during Shakespeare's lifetime. But
their success did not lead Shakespeare to give up playwriting. After the
public theatres were reopened in 1594, he began again to write plays.
Indeed, Shakespeare was one of the few Elizabethan writers who concentrated
almost solely on the theatre as a career.
Shakespeare, returning to the theatre in
1594, with, at least six of his plays produced, he became a leading member
and a sharer (stock-holder) of the Lord Chamberlain's Men, formally known
as Lord Strange's Men. The manuscript accounts of the treasurer of the
royal chamber in the public records office tell us the following:
To William Kempe, William Shakespeare, and
Richard Burbage, servants to the Lord Chamberlain, upon the council's
warrant dated at Whitehall xv die Marcij 1594 for two several comedies
or interludes showed by them before her Majesty in Christmas time last
past, viz; upon St. Stephan's day and Innocent's day, xiiij li. vj s.
viij d. and by way of her Majesty's reward...
The new theatre company, under the patronage
of the Lord Chamberlain with Will Kempe, a master comedian, and Richard
Burbage, a leading tragic actor of the day, and, for almost twenty years
Shakespeare as a regular dramatist, producing on average two plays a year.
Burbage played roles such as Richard III, Hamlet, Othello and Lear.
Not only acting and writing for the Lord
Chamberlain's Men (later changed again to the King's Men after the ascension
of James I in 1603), but was a managing partner in the operation as well.
The Lord Chamberlain's Men became a favourite London troupe, patronized
by royalty and made popular by the theatre-going public as a leading figure
in the Chamberlain's Men Company Shakespeare would garner even greater
patronage from the courts of Queen Elizabeth and her successor, King James.
In the late 1590's he wrote many plays. Most
of them being comedies, the major ones are: "The Taming of the Shrew",
"The Comedy of Errors", "As You Like It", "Much
Ado About Nothing", and "The Two Gentlemen of Verona".
"Romeo and Juliet" was his only tragedy written during this
time. In 1599 a theatre, the Globe was built by Shakespeare's company.
Wherein some of Shakespears most prominent tragedies written and first
performed including "Hamlet", "Othello", "King
Lear", and "Macbeth".