Shakespeare was involved in many aspects of London’s professional theatrical world. He was an actor, a playwright, and a shareholder in an acting company known as the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, which became the King’s Men when James I became king in 1603. His plays were performed on professional stages owned by his company--first the Theatre, and then, after 1599, the Globe. (After a property dispute, the Theatre was disassembled and the timbers used to build the Globe). In 1609, his company began using its own indoor theater at Blackfriars. His plays were performed in many other spaces, including the royal court, the universities of Oxford and Cambridge and the Inns of Court, public buildings and outdoor spaces in the provinces, and private households.

The total number of Shakespeare’s plays varies somewhat, depending on who is counting them, and how. The total shifts between 38 and 40 plays as scholars reassess references to his two lost plays--Love’s Labor’s Won and Cardenio--and analyze how large a hand he had in some collaboratively-written plays.

This category includes all publications of his plays, up to and including the First Folio in 1623; all entries for his plays in the Stationers' Register; administrative documents from the National Archives and elsewhere that make reference to his theaters and theater companies; and printed and handwritten references to seeing and/or reading his plays. Read Alan H. Nelson's thematic essay to learn more about lawsuits in Shakespeare's England.

Visit the British Library's Shakespeare in Quarto, to learn even more about actorsplayhouses and theater companies in Shakespeare's time, and to view completely digitized copies of Shakespeare's plays.

Our Featured Documents

All Documents

ca. 1620- 1630
This music book, written around 1620-1630, includes a song from Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale  (4.4.336), “Get yee hence, for I must goe” (image 2).
SHAKESPEARE DOCUMENTED IS STILL GROWING! Descriptive content and transcriptions will continue to be added, updated and expanded. Check back for regular updates!
The lawsuit shown here, Burbage et al. v. Brend, is of greatest importance in allowing scholars to reconstruct the building of the 1599 Globe playhouse and its 1614 post-fire replacement in considerable financial detail.
ca. 1623- 1633
Humphrey Dyson (1582-1633) was probably the first owner of this copy of the first edition of Troilus and Cressida (1609), now in the Huntington Library. Dyson signed his name on the title page, as he did with many other volumes in his extensive library.
April 8, 1634
The Two Noble Kinsmen was entered into Liber D of the Stationer’s Company on April 8, 1634.
SHAKESPEARE DOCUMENTED IS STILL GROWING! Descriptive content and transcriptions will continue to be added, updated and expanded. Check back for regular updates!
In 1635 Robert Benefield, Heilard Swanston, and Thomas Pollard petitioned the Lord Chamberlain for a redistribution of the profits and proceedings of the Globe playhouse.
1636- 1637
The 1636–7 Revels Office book records that  the royal court witnessed eighteen plays over the Christmas season, from November 17 to February 21, including “the moore of Venice” (December 8), “hamlet” (January 24), and “the tragedie of Cesar” (January
ca. 1620- 1650
A copy of the third edition of William Camden’s Britannia (1590) now in the Huntington Library in San Marino, California, carries an inscription in ink on the lower margin of page 452: et Gulielmo Shakespear Roscio plané nostro
Gesta Grayorum is the published account of entertainments performed at Gray’s Inn over the 1594–5 Christmas season, including a performance of The Comedy of Errors on December 28.