1902 Encyclopedia > William Shakespeare > Shakespeare Goes to London and Becomes an Actor

William Shakespeare
(Part 30)


Shakespeare Goes to London and Becomes an Actor.

The exact date of this event -- of Shakespeare's leaving Stratford for London -- cannot be fixed with any certainty. All the probabilities of the case, however, indicate that it must have taken place between the spring of 1585 and the autumn of 1587. In the latter year three of the leading companies visited Stratford, those belonging to the queen, Lord Leicester, and Lord Essex; and, as Lord Leicester's included three of Shakespeare's fellow townsmen, -- Burbage, Heminge, and Greene, -- it is not improbable that he may then have decided on trying his fortune in London.

At the same time it is quite possible, and on some grounds even likely, that the step may have been taken somewhat earlier.

But for the five years between 1587 and 1592 we have no direct knowledge of Shakespeare's movements at all, the period being a complete biographical blank, dimly illuminated at the outset by one or two doubtful traditions.

We have indeed the assurance that after leaving Stratford he continued to visit his native town at least once every year; and if he had left in 1586 we may confidently assume that he returned the next year for the purpose, amongst others, of consulting with his father and mother about the Asbies mortgage and of taking part with them in their action against John Lambert.

His uniting with them in this action deserves special notice, as showing that he continued to take the keenest personal interest in all home affairs, and, although living mainly in London, was still looked upon, not only as the eldest son, but as the adviser and friend of the family.

The anecdotes of Shakespeare's occupations on going to London are, that at first he was employed in a comparatively humble capacity about the theatre, and that for a time he took charge of the horses of those who rode to see the plays, and was so successful in this work that he soon had a number of juvenile assistants who were known as Shakespeare's boys.

Even in their crude form these traditions embody a tribute to Shakespeare's business promptitude and skill. If there is any truth in them they may be taken to indicate that while filling some subordinate post in the theatre Shakespeare perceived a defective point in the local arrangements, or heard the complaints of the mounted gallants as to the difficulty of putting up their horses. His provisions for meeting the difficulty seem to have been completely and even notoriously successful. There were open sheds or temporary stables in connexion with the theatre in Shoreditch, and Shakespeare's boys, if the tradition is true, probably each took charge of a horse in these stables while its owner was at the play.

But in any case this would be simply a brief episode in Shakespeare's multifarious employments when he first reached the scene of his active labours in London. He must soon have had more serious and absorbing professional occupations in the green room, on the stage, and in the laboratory of his own teeming brain, "the quick forge and working house of thought."

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