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Shakespeare's Fame in his Lifetime

With Tiffany Stern

Did Shakespeare become famous in his life-time?


Stern: Shakespeare was first known as an erotic poet because of Venus and Adonis, Rape of Lucrece and his ‘sugred sonnets’: in 1595 he’s heralded as ‘sweet Shakespeare’ and ‘Honie-tong’d Shakespeare’. But from 1598 onwards, Shakespeare’s name is found on playbooks. 

Known as an actor-writer, ‘Mr. … Shakespeare’ was lauded for having ‘plaide … Kingly parts in sport’, while being ‘our English Terence’ (Terence was a famous classical playwright). He was seen, however, as not highly educated. 

Fellow playwright, Beaumont, ‘would … from all Learninge keepe these lines as [cl]eere as Shakespeares’; more positively, Returne from Pernassus maintains ‘Few of the university pen plaies well’ and concludes ‘Shakespeare puts them all downe’. Though thought less brilliant than Ben Jonson, Shakespeare had a solid reputation. By 1630, a jest book calls ‘Stratford upon Avon, … remarkable for the birth of famous William Shakespeare’.

tiffany stern

Tiffany Stern

Tiffany Stern is a Professorial Fellow in Shakespeare and Early Modern Drama at The Shakespeare Institute, University of Birmingham, and author of Rehearsal from Shakespeare to Sheridan (2000); Making Shakespeare (2004); Shakespeare in Parts (with Simon Palfrey, 2007); and Documents of Performance (2009).

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