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Shakespeare is first mentioned as a playwright in 1592, when he had already written at least five plays: The Comedy of ErrorsTitus Andronicus, and Henry VI, Parts 1, 2, and 3. By 1598, a literary critic attributes a dozen plays to him, including one that is now considered lost, Love’s Labors Won.

Shakespeare’s contemporaries gossiped about him, and read, saw, and responded to his plays. Evidence for Shakespeare’s prominence in the playwriting community appears in manuscript and print, including title pages, literary anthologies, and literary criticism by his contemporaries. Occasionally, we encounter more subtle glimpses of the theatrical network at work--for example, diary entries, or in one instance, a conversation with Shakespeare about a play’s author, recorded by Sir George Buc, Master of the Revels, who was responsible for censoring plays for performance in the early 17th century.  

Like other plays from the period, Shakespeare’s plays were meant to be read both as stories and as sources for sententiae, passages that become stand-alone proverbs when removed from the play. Beginning in 1600, a group of editors and publishers elevated English plays to a more respectable status by excerpting them in printed literary anthologies and printing “commonplace markers” (modern-day quotation marks) alongside extractable sayings in the plays themselves. These markers would indicate passages that readers could then copy into their own commonplace books, personalized collections of proverbs.  

All Documents

ca. 1598
The scholar and writer Gabriel Harvey was known and mocked in his lifetime for making copious notes in the margins of printed books. An inventor of words, friend of Edmund Spenser, and rival of Thomas Nashe, he constantly sought to improve himself through note-taking and repetitive reading.
1598
Francis Meres provided one of the earliest printed assessments of Shakespeare’s plays and poetry in his 1598 publication, Palladis Tamia, Wits Treasury in a chapter entitled “A comparatiue discourse of our English Poets, with the Greeke, Latine, and Italian Poets.
1599
John Weever’s Epigrammes in the oldest cut, and newest fashion was published in 1599. Weever began his career as an aspiring poet and literary observer at Cambridge, where he was the student of William Covell at Queen’s College.
1599
SHAKESPEARE DOCUMENTED IS STILL GROWING! Descriptive content and transcriptions will continue to be added, updated and expanded. Check back for regular updates!
ca. 1599
William Scott’s The Modell of Poesye, a treatise on poetics, includes the earliest literary criticism of Shakespeare. Although Shakespeare is not mentioned by name in the manuscript, two of his works are.
July 8, 1599
SHAKESPEARE DOCUMENTED IS STILL GROWING! Descriptive content and transcriptions will continue to be added, updated and expanded. Check back for regular updates!
1600
Englands Parnassus is one of two printed commonplace books, or collections of extracts organized by topic, compiled by Robert Allott, and was printed shortly after John Bodenham’s Bel-vedére.
1600
SHAKESPEARE DOCUMENTED IS STILL GROWING! Descriptive content and transcriptions will continue to be added, updated and expanded. Check back for regular updates!
ca. 1600
SHAKESPEARE DOCUMENTED IS STILL GROWING! Descriptive content and transcriptions will continue to be added, updated and expanded. Check back for regular updates!
1600
SHAKESPEARE DOCUMENTED IS STILL GROWING! Descriptive content and transcriptions will continue to be added, updated and expanded. Check back for regular updates!

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