In London, Shakespeare was actor and dramatist for The Lord Chamberlain’s Menlater renamed The King’s Men when James I took the throne in 1603one of two predominate acting troupes in London at the time (the other was The Lord Admiral’s Men, headed by Edward Alleyn with financial banking from Philip Henslowe). In 1599, Shakespeare became a shareholding member of The Lord Chamberlain’s Men. Between the years of 1588 and 1613, Shakespeare wrote 38 plays.
His dramatic work is commonly studied in four categories: comedies, histories, tragedies, and romances. In addition, Shakespeare also wrote several Ovidian poems, including Venus and Adonis (1593) and The Rape of Lucrece (1594). Shakespeare is also well known for his sonnet sequence written in the early 1590s which is comprised of 154 interconnected sonnets dealing with issues such as love, fidelity, mortality, and the artist’s power and voice.
Because of the publishing practices of the time and the fact that playwrights, including Shakespeare, didn’t write with the intention of preserving their plays but with the goal of making money, it is difficult to pinpoint definitive texts. In Shakespeare’s case, only about half of his plays were published during his lifetime. In fact, it wasn’t until 1623, seven years after Shakespeare’s death in 1616, that all his plays were assembled into one volume.
This collection, referred to as The First Folio (because it was printed in folio format, the largest, most expensive, and most prestigious kind of book), included previously published plays as well as plays never before published. Some of the works in The First Folio can be traced to the author’s papers, yet some were re-created from prompt books (annotated play scripts) or even the memories of the actors themselves (helping to explain some of the inconsistencies found in different editions of the plays).