says that this greatest of English-speaking playwrights made
his first contact with the theater as a sort of handy man of
all work. One of his tasks, according to legend, was, with the
assistance of several boy helpers, to hold the horses of the
wealthy patrons who attended the theater.
Is is supposed that he left his family about four years after
to Anne Hathaway at the age of eighteen, and came up to London
to seek to better the family fortunes. London had grown prosperous
under the reign of Elizabeth and at this time the group of writers
frequently spoken of as the "University Wits" were
in possession of the stage so far as the writing of plays was
concerned. But somewhere, somehow, during those early years in
London, Shakespeare gained a foothold, first probably as an actor
and then perhaps as an adaptor and hack writer.
By the early 1590's Shakespeare was firmly established in
the theater. In 1599 the family was granted a coat of arms and
thereafter the playwright was entitled to sign himself, "William
Shakespeare, Gent." At the same time his financial status
was improving. He bought a large house in Stratford and frequently
after that acquired other property both in Stratford and London.
It has been customary among Shakespearean Commentators to
divide his dramatic work into four periods: (1) the experimental
period ending about 1593 and including among other plays, Love's
Labour's Lost, Two Gentlemen of Verona, and A Comedy of
Errors; (2) the period in which he became definitely established
ending about 1601, and marked especially by the production of
some of his best-known romantic comedies, notably The Merchant
of Venice and, according to some commentators, A
Midsummer Night's Dream. (William Winter, the noted Shakespearean
expert, however, claims that this latter play was first exhibited
at the Globe Theater in 1592 which would link it definitely to
the first period.) (3) the period covered by the first
ten years of the 17th century and given over largely to somber
tragedies such as King
Othello, and Macbeth;
(4) the period from 1610 to the playwright's death, notable for
a ripening and enrichment of the poet's powers that flowered
in the grave, serene romances of A Winter's Tale and The Tempest.
Not a single original Shakespearean manuscript has survived,
due partly perhaps to the fact that they were written, many of
them hastily, strictly for stage performance. Practically all
of Shakespeare's plots were borrowed. So original was his treatment,
however, and so remarkable his command of language, that in the
process of adaptation the borrowed plots became as truly his
own as though they had been original products of his imagination.
They have rightfully brought him a place second to none in the
records of posterity.
document was originally published in Minute History of the
Drama. Alice B. Fort & Herbert S. Kates. New York: Grosset
& Dunlap, 1935. p. 36.