the illustrated shakespeare
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 Dream:


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 his art.

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):



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".