WITH THE LORD CHAMBERLAIN'S COMPANY
DURING his two years of freedom from acting and playmaking Shakespeare had succeeded in establishing himself as one of England's leading poets. His Venus and Adonis, his Lucrece, and his Sonnets had won him the unstinted praise of literary critics, and had carried his fame even to the cloistered halls of Oxford and Cambridge. From Ireland Edmund Spenser wrote to acknowledge his power, including him, "though last, not least," in his famous list of eminent poets who glorified the Court of Elizabeth:
A gentler shepheard may nowhere be found, Whose Muse, full of high thoughts' invention, Doth like himself heroically sound.1
Shakespeare's name was indeed sounding wherever men came together to discuss the poetry of the day.
In view of his rapid rise to fame in the courtly circle of writers, he may, as has already been suggested, have contemplated abandoning the actor's profession and dramatic composition, with the purpose of henceforth devoting his energy to the production of works in the realm of pure literature. If so, Fate was soon to determine otherwise. Whether he lost the patronage of the Earl of Southampton, or whether the actors were able to offer him pecuniary inducements that he could not resist, we are unable to say. All that we positively know is that before the end of 1594 he is back again at the "common theatres," as an____________________