London in the early seventeenth century, from a view by Claes Jansz Visscher.
From Shakespeare's England (1917)

Sometime during this period, Shakespeare embarked on his theatrical career. He may have started by joining one of the five theatrical companies which played in Stratford between 1586 and 1587.

An inauspicious start

The first reference to Shakespeare in London and in the theater is made in Robert Greene's A Groats-worth of Witte, Bought with a Million of Repentance (this isn't even the full title*), published in 1592, shortly after Greene's death. In it, he advised his fellow playwright-scholars to quit writing for the stage because the actors were ungrateful; specifically, he attacked a young actor-playwright who had apparently just arrived on the scene.

Greenes Groatsworth of Wit, Bought with a Million of Repentance. Describing the Folly of Youth, the Falsehood of Makeshift Flatterers, the Misery of the Negligent, and Mischiefs of Deceiving Courtesans (1592).

Groat: A groat was a coin worth four pence.

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Footnotes

  1. The full title

    Greenes Groatsworth of Wit, Bought with a Million of Repentance. Describing the Folly of Youth, the Falsehood of Makeshift Flatterers, the Misery of the Negligent, and Mischiefs of Deceiving Courtesans (1592).

    Groat: A groat was a coin worth four pence.