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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. 1622- 1625
This circa 1620s manuscript commonplace book includes eleven Shakespearean extracts from four plays: three from Richard II, one from Romeo and Juliet, five from Hamlet and two from Othello.
ca. 1570- 1625
SHAKESPEARE DOCUMENTED IS STILL GROWING! Descriptive content and transcriptions will continue to be added, updated and expanded. Check back for regular updates!
ca. 1616- 1630
SHAKESPEARE DOCUMENTED IS STILL GROWING! Descriptive content and transcriptions will continue to be added, updated and expanded. Check back for regular updates!
ca. 1620- 1630
SHAKESPEARE DOCUMENTED IS STILL GROWING! Descriptive content and transcriptions will continue to be added, updated and expanded. Check back for regular updates!
1631
SHAKESPEARE DOCUMENTED IS STILL GROWING! Descriptive content and transcriptions will continue to be added, updated and expanded. Check back for regular updates!
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.
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
1688
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.
early 17th century
SHAKESPEARE DOCUMENTED IS STILL GROWING! Descriptive content and transcriptions will continue to be added, updated and expanded. Check back for regular updates!
17th century
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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