UP Fish Street! Down Saint Magnus' Corner! Kill and knock down! Throw them into Thames!
( Jack Cade, 2 Henry VI)
Shakespeare's likely evolving duties in a troupe, as well as his attitudes to Marlowe and Kyd, his own plays, and even what is known of his London milieu, give us a chance to examine him rather closely. What is unique in his inward development? After some experience as an actor and theatre-poet, how did he make the most use of his talents?
Even in comparison with John Lyly, he bursts into flower as a poet with astonishing suddenness. Lyly had had the two elegant prose romances of Euphues and Euphues and his England behind him when he wrote his first play. Soon after school, Shakespeare must have penned something other than epistles and orations; his amateurish 'hate away' sonnet, no. 145, is not beyond the skill of a bright grammar- school boy, and it is likely that he wrote more ambitious works during his courtship; a few years later in London he may have revised or added to works by other writers. 1 Yet in a work such as Two Gentlemen he proved his real value to a troupe. His exotic, rather Petrarchan and Italianate manner suited a fashion, as though he had been able to capitalize on a vogue and please Inns of Court men, city gentry and their wives, and foreign visitors. As Thomas Nashe put it in 1592, the afternoon was 'the idlest time of the day', and London had many idlers waiting to be charmed, such as 'Gentlemen of the Court, the Innes of Courte, and the number of Captaines and Souldiers about'. 2