tradition ‘that his first office in the theatre was that of prompter's attendant’ or call-boy. His intellectual capacity and the amiability with which he turned to account his versatile powers, were probably soon recognised, and thenceforth his promotion was assured.
Shakespeare's earliest reputation was made as an actor, and although his work as a dramatist Joins the
company.soon eclipsed his histrionic fame, he remained a prominent member of the actor's profession till near the end of his life. In 1587 and following years, besides three companies of boy-actors formed from the choristers of St. Paul's Cathedral and the Chapel Royal and from Westminster scholars, there were at least six companies of adult London actors; five of these were called after noble patrons (the Earls of Leicester, Oxford, Sussex, and Worcester, and the lord admiral, Charles, lord Howard of Effingham), and one of them was called after the queen. Constant alterations of name, owing to the death or change from other causes of the patrons, render it difficult to trace with certainty each company's history. But there seems no doubt that the most influential of the companies named—that under the patronage of the Earl of Leicester—passed on his death in September 1588 under the patronage of Ferdinando Stanley, lord Strange, who became Earl of Derby on 25 Sept. 1592. When the Earl of Derby died on 16 April 1594, his place as patron was successively filled by Henry Carey, first lord Hunsdon, lord chamberlain (d. 23 July 1596), and by his son and heir, George Carey, second lord Hunsdon, who himself became lord chamberlain in March 1597. After King James's succession in May 1603 the company was promoted to be the king's players, and, thus advanced in dignity, it fully maintained the supremacy which, under successive titles, it had already long enjoyed.
It is fair to infer that this was the company that Shakespeare originally joined. Documentary evidence proves that he was a member of it in December 1594; in May 1603 he was one of its leaders. Four of its chief members—Richard Burbage [q. v.], the greatest tragic actor of the day, John Heming [q. v.], Henry Condell [q. v.], and Augustine Phillips—were among Shakespeare's lifelong friends. Under the same company's auspices, moreover, Shakespeare's plays first saw the light. Only two of the plays claimed for him, ‘Titus Andronicus’ and ‘3 Henry VI,’ seem to have been performed by other companies (the Earl of Sussex's men in the one case and the Earl of Pembroke's in the other).
At first the company performed at the Theatre, but while known as Lord Strange's men, and when under the temporary management of the great actor, Edward Alleyn (of the Admiral's company), they opened on 19 Feb. 1592 a new theatre, called the Rose, which Philip Henslowe had erected on the Bankside, Southwark. The Rose was doubtless the earliest scene of Shakespeare's successes alike as actor and dramatist. Subsequently he frequented the older stage of the Curtain in Shoreditch. Early in 1599 Richard Burbage and his brother Cuthbert built on the Bankside a theatre called the Globe. It was octagonal in shape, and built of wood, and doubtless Shakespeare described it (rather than the Curtain) as ‘this wooden O,’ in the opening chorus of ‘Henry V’ (l. 13). After 1599 the Globe was mainly occupied by Shakespeare's company, and in its profits he acquired a share. The Blackfriars Theatre, which was created out of a dwelling-house by James Burbage [q. v.], the actor's father, at the end of 1596, was for many years afterwards leased out to the company of boy actors, known as ‘the queen's children of the chapel;’ it was not occupied by Shakespeare's company until December 1609 or January 1610, when his acting days were nearing their end.
In London Shakespeare resided near the theatres. According to a memorandum by Alleyn (which Malone quoted), he lodged in 1596 near ‘the Bear Garden in Southwark.’ In 1598 one William Shakespeare, who was assessed by the collectors of a subsidy in the sum of 13s. 4d. upon goods valued at 5l., was a resident in St. Helen's parish, Bishopsgate, but it is not certain that this tax-payer was the dramatist (cf. Exchequer Lay Subsidies City of London, 146/369, Public Record Office; Notes and Queries, 8th ser. viii. 418).
Elizabethan actors performed not only in London but in the provinces, and a fewShakespeare's
travels.occasionally extended their professional tours to foreign courts. In Denmark, Germany, Austria, Holland, and possibly in France, many dramatic performances were given by English actors between 1580 and 1630 (cf. Cohn, Shakespeare in Germany, 1865; Meissner, Die englischen Comödianten zur Zeit Shakespeare in Oesterreich, Vienna, 1884; Jon Stefansson on ‘Shakespeare at Elsinore’ in Contemporary Review, January 1896; Notes and Queries, 5th ser. ix. 43, xi. 520). Shakespeare may be credited with faithfully fulfilling all his professional functions. The many references to travel in his sonnets were doubtless reminiscences of acting tours through English country towns, and it has been repeatedly urged that he