British Library Treasures in full: Shakespeare in quarto
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Shakespeare began his career not long after the first public playhouses were established in London. His earliest plays were given at the Theatre, an open-air playhouse in Shoreditch. Many of his plays were written for the Globe, rebuilt from the timbers of the Theatre on Bankside. A number of Shakespeare’s later plays were created for the very different surroundings of the indoor playhouse at Blackfriars.

Shakespeare, a player as well as a dramatist, belonged to a company of players. His company, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men (from 1603 the King’s Men) competed with others, notably the Admiral’s Men, for audiences. Like most leading players, Shakespeare was a sharer in his company and was able to enjoy its profits. He also had to suffer its losses - for example, when the first Globe burnt down in 1613. His plays were created with his company’s players in mind. Such players as the tragedian Richard Burbage and clowns like William Kemp influenced the roles within Shakespeare’s plays.

Shakespeare’s theatre came to an end in 1642. In that year, on the eve of the Civil War, all the playhouses were closed by order of Parliament. Those which were still structurally sound were either converted into dwellings, or demolished so that their timbers could be reused elsewhere. The players could no longer perform their plays in public.

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1. Playhouses
2. Companies of players
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