Culture and Recreation
Was Shakespeare famous in his own time?
Yes, by 1592 he was well known as a dramatist. William Shakespeare (1564–1616) was the son of John Shakespeare, who belonged to the merchant class, and Mary Arden, who came from a family of slightly higher social standing. His first plays, the three parts of the Henry VI history cycle, were presented in London in 1590 to 1592. The first reference to Shakespeare in the London literary world dates from 1592, when dramatist Robert Greene (c. 1558–92) referred to him as “an upstart crow.”
The critical remark notwithstanding, Shakespeare’s literary reputation and his acclaim grew over the next few years. He experimented with classical dramatic forms in the early tragedy Titus Andronicus (1593–1594) and issued a pair of narrative poems, Venus and Adonis (1593) and The Rape of Lucrece (1594). These works, which played to the fashion for poems on mythological themes, were immensely successful, establishing “honey-tongued Shakespeare”—as his contemporary Francis Meres (1565–1647) called him—as a prominent writer.
Shakespeare further established himself as a professional actor and playwright when he joined the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, an acting company formed in 1594 when they began performing at theaters in London (in 1603 the group was renamed the King’s Men). They became the foremost London company, largely attributable to the fact that, after joining the group in 1594, Shakespeare wrote for no other company.