Share this page

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).

Discover Shakespeare's family homes

Find out more

Learn about the man from Stratford

William Shakespeare
Where Shakespeare's story started Relive Shakespeare's love story Walk in Shakespeare's footsteps