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Shakespeare's 'Lost Years'

What was Shakespeare doing between 1585 and 1592?

'The Lost Years' refers to the period of Shakespeare's life between the baptism of his twins, Hamnet and Judith in 1585 and his apparent arrival on the London theatre scene in 1592. We do not know when or why William Shakespeare left Stratford-upon-Avon for London, or what he was doing before becoming a professional actor and dramatist in the capital. There are various traditions and stories about the so-called ‘lost years’. There is no documentary evidence of his life during this period of time. 

A type of mythology has developed around these mysterious years, and many people have their favourite version of the story.

A popular story revolves around Shakespeare’s relationship with Sir Thomas Lucy, a local Stratford-upon-Avon landowner. By oral tradition, it was reported that Shakespeare poached deer from Sir Thomas Lucy’s estate, the nearby Charlecote Park. It was said that he fled to London in order to escape punishment.

John Aubrey wrote in 1681 that William Shakespeare 'had been in his younger years a schoolmaster in the country' (which might well refer to Stratford, since Aubrey was writing from a London perspective). Others speculate that he was employed as a lawyer's clerk or became a soldier. It is also possible that he joined one of the companies of players which visited Stratford in the late 1580s. He may also have been living in Stratford, and helping out with the family business.

Gaps in the records of people’s lives are not unusual, so the notion of ‘lost years’ might even be construed as being symptomatic of too much biographical expectation and entitlement. Regardless of what happened during these years, we do know that he found himself an established playwright in London by 1592, as his plays began to be produced. 

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