When Did Shakespeare Begin Writing?

Every now and then I find a question in my travels that makes me think, “You know, I never really thought about it.” Such is the above question.
We know about Shakespeare as upstart crow in 1592, so presumably he was known in playwriting circles at that point. But that’s about it, and that tells us nothing about how exactly he honed his craft. When did Shakespeare begin writing? Did he get married, have kids, move to London, and *then* decide “Hey, I’ll try this playwriting thing”? Or was it always a lifelong ambition, and somewhere lost in time there are notebooks full of the scribblings of an 8yr old William, trying to out ideas? At what point does the greatest writer in the English language realize that he wants to be a writer?

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5 thoughts on “When Did Shakespeare Begin Writing?

  1. Well, you hit the only certain date to start with, the reference by Greene in 1592. Venus and Adonis was published in 1593. Peter Alexander thinks he started writing around 1584. Sidney lee thinks it may have been 1591.
    Of course, nobody knows for sure.

  2. I realize it's an unanswerable question, but sometimes those are fun. Like I said in the original post, do you prefer to think of a Shakespeare who was always writing from the time he was able to, or more of a shrewd businessman who only developed an interest in the subject once he realized there was a living to be made at it?

    Where do your two sources get their numbers? The Sidney Lee number seems to imply that Shakespeare was so good at it that he basically picked up a pen, wrote, and then world was never the same again. At least the Alexander number suggests it took him the better part of the decade to get good.

  3. They made up their dates. No information whatsoever to back them up.
    I forgot about the second part of your question. I picture Will as someone who wrote from an early age. Perhaps he only wrote for himself. Perhaps he shared what he wrote with his family and friends. Perhaps he wrote miracle plays for the local church. But I am sure he wrote. And I'll bet he was pretty good from the start.

  4. You know how little kids make up those little plays to put on for their family and friends? I bet his were amazing.
    Perhaps he started out really wanting to act in plays but once he got immersed in that world he realized his true love and talent was for storytelling, so he started writing plays.
    Questions like this make me really want a time machine.
    — Nora

  5. Some scholars say that Sonnet 145 ("Those lips that Love's own hand did make") is as close as we can get to Shakespearean juvenilia. It appears to be a poem to (or about?) Anne Hathaway. Gurr dates it to 1582–i' th' summer–when Shakespeare was wooing her (or was being wooed by her . . . or both).

    Scholars say that the sonnet isn't that great. But "not great" for Shakespeare isn't all that bad, really!


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