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2. London

By 1592, aged 28, Shakespeare was in London and already established as both an actor and a dramatist. He is first mentioned as a man of the theatre by the poet and dramatist Robert Greene, in Greenes, Groats-Worth of Witte published that year. Greene referred to him as an 'upstart crow' who 'is in his own conceit the only Shake-scene in a country'.

There is little evidence for Shakespeare's London career. Between 1592 and 1594, when the theatres were frequently closed because of the plague, he wrote his earliest poems Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece. They were published in 1593 and 1594 respectively, and dedicated to his patron the 3rd Earl of Southampton. The chronology of Shakespeare's early plays is very difficult to determine. His first plays have been dated to 1590 or even earlier, when he may have been a member of the Queen's Men. Shakespeare was probably a founder member of the Lord Chamberlain's Men, the acting company established under the patronage of Henry Carey, 1st Lord Hunsdon, in 1594. He is first mentioned as a leading member of that company in the accounts of the Treasurer of the Queen's Chamber in March 1595, when he and others received payment for performances at court during the Christmas period of 1594-1595. He was both a player and a shareholder in the company, as well as its leading dramatist. Shakespeare wrote the majority of the 37 plays which are now accepted as his, as well as collaborating on several more, between 1594 and 1613. As an actor, he was associated with the parts of kings and old men. His roles may have included the Ghost in Hamlet and old Adam in As You Like It.

Handwriting thought to be Shakespeare’s
Handwriting thought to be Shakespeare's, in a manuscript play. The Book of Sir Thomas Moore, British Library, Harley MS. 7368, f.9. Larger image

According to the records of the parish of St Helen's in Bishopsgate, Shakespeare was living in the area at some date before October 1596. Other records indicate that between the winter of 1596-1597 and 1599 he had moved to the Liberty of the Clink in Southwark. His move may have coincided with the closure of the Theatre in Shoreditch and the opening of the Globe on Bankside. Shakespeare is named in the 1599 lease for the Globe, the new playhouse built by the Lord Chamberlain's Men from the dismantled timbers of the Theatre. Many of Shakespeare's greatest plays were written for this open-air playhouse.

Elizabeth I died in 1603 and was succeeded by James VI of Scotland, as James I. The Lord Chamberlain’s Men became the King’s Men soon after the new king reached London, and Shakespeare’s name appears prominently in the company’s royal Patent. The company enjoyed the new king’s favour and played regularly at court for several years. In 1608, the King’s Men acquired an indoor theatre at Blackfriars, and from 1609 they played there as well as at the Globe. This new indoor theatre, as well as the company’s appearances at court, may have influenced Shakespeare’s last plays. In 1613, Shakespeare bought a gatehouse in Blackfriars. This was the first property he had acquired in London, and was probably an investment since he seems not to have lived there. The burning of the Globe in 1613 may have affected Shakespeare’s future plans, even though the playhouse was quickly rebuilt. By 1613, his activity as a poet and dramatist was over, and he had apparently returned to live in Stratford-upon-Avon where he died less than 3 years later.

 
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