We don't know exactly when, but sometime in the
late 1580's Shakespeare took lodgings in London
where he became an actor.
The first unmistakable reference to him in
London is in Robert Greene's Groatsworth of
Wit of 1592. Greene was a playwright
dying in poverty and bitterness when he wrote
this pamphlet which was published after his
death. In it he refers to
"an upstart crow,
"Beautified is a vile phrase" Hamlet Act II Sc II
with our feathers, that with his tiger's
heart wrapped in a player's 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
In Shakespeare's Henry VI part 3 is
the line "O tiger's heart wrapp'd in a woman's
hide!" Greene, who had a Masters degree, appears
to be attacking this upstart actor who was
presuming to write plays, even though he hadn't
been to university. So Shakespeare was an actor
who had already had at least one play performed.
In 1593 the theatres in London were all closed
by the authorities because of the plague, and
William wrote the narrative poem Venus and
Adonis. This became very popular, being
reprinted sixteen times before 1640, and made
Shakespeare famous. A year later his poem Rape
of Lucrece was published. This was not so
successful in the bookshops, but eight
reprintings by 1640 didn't make it a flop!
In 1594, when the plague
had abated, the acting company called the Lord
Chamberlain's Men were formed. This was the
company, later to become the King's Men for
which Shakespeare would act and write for the
rest of his career. He is recorded as one of the
players paid for giving two performances for
Queen Elizabeth I at Greenwich in 1595.
The Chamberlain's Men
were 'managed' by James Burbage who had built
two playhouses north of the city in Shoreditch
called The Curtain and The Theatre.
Burbage had two sons, Cuthbert and Richard.
Cuthbert wasn't an actor but after his father's
death became the company's business manager.
Richard was to become the greatest actor of the
age, playing all Shakespeare's leading roles as
well as many other starring parts.
In the August of 1596
William and Anne's only son Hamnet died at only
eleven and a half years old. This must
have been devastating to them both. Is there a
link with another recorded event of that year?
William seems to be the initiator of the
application for a coat of arms to be granted to
John his father, marking him and his descendants
as gentlemen rather than yeomen. An application
by John twenty years earlier had come to
nothing, but now it was successful.
1597 was a year when we
can see William becoming richer, but no doubt
fearing for the future. Early in the year
James Burbage died, and his sons took over
management of the two Shoreditch playhouses.
Worryingly the lease on The Theatre expired in
April and no new lease could be agreed with the
landlord. The players moved into The Curtain
next door, but one can guess that this was very
much second best. The company's sponsor, Lord
Hunsdon had died a year earlier, but after
a delay, his son was appointed as Lord
Chamberlain in his place and he appointed the
Shakespeare/Burbage company as his players.
William can't have been unduly
worried by all this change though, because in
that same year he bought the second biggest
house in Stratford, New Place. The house
was demolished in the nineteenth century, but
here you can see the site with the original
well. In 2010/2011 the site was being excavated