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Why did Shakespeare leave his family to move to London?

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worcester | College Teacher | (Level 2) Honors

Posted November 21, 2011 at 3:22 AM via web

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Why did Shakespeare leave his family to move to London?

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thanatassa | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted November 21, 2011 at 3:38 AM (Answer #1)

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Unfortunately, the move occurred during a period known to Shakespearean scholars as the "dark years," a period for which we have no biographical information about Shakespeare. It should also be noted that in general, biographical information about Shakespeare is scant and not completely reliable.

The odds are that Shakespeare moved to London for career reasons. There would not have been a great deal of highly remunerative work for an actor/playwright in Stratford. Moreover, as his father had suffered some financial difficulties, it was necessary for William to find work that would support his family. He did manage to obtain a position with Pembroke’s Men, and continued to work for London theatrical companies until, sometime near the end of his life, he became sufficiently well-of to retire to Stratford.

As Statford is approximately 100 miles from London, it would have been a multi-day journey, making voisits limited to times when the theatre was not running.

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Stephen Holliday | College Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

Posted April 1, 2015 at 4:09 PM (Answer #3)

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As the prior answer indicates, there is a period in Shakespeare's life known as the Lost Years (1578-82 and 1585-92).  When biographers and historians attempt to trace Shakespeare's life through documentary evidence--receipts, bills, letters, tax rolls, assessments--these periods represent a blank in Shakespeare's life.  Over the years, many theories have been put forth, including one that has Shakespeare being imprisoned for routinely poaching deer and other animals in a royal preserve belonging to Henry Lucy.  Others speculate that he ran away from his responsibilities in Stratford-upon-Avon as husband and father and hid himself among the anonymous crowds of London.

As Stephen Greenblatt has argued, however, Shakespeare may have been hiding in plain sight.  It is possible, perhaps even likely given Shakespeare's interests, that he joined a traveling acing company--The Queen's Men--when they came to Stratford in 1587 and needed an actor to fill an empty spot. (Stephen Greenblat, Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare.  New York: Norton, 2004).  If this is the case, and it is possible, if not probable, Shakespeare would have begun his acting apprenticeship in or around 1587.  How he might have explained his actions to his family we shall never know because there is no documentary evidence to rely upon.

During this period, acting companies  such as The Queen's Men would have traveled to towns all around the periphery of London to give performances and then, during London's theater season, moved their operation to one of the theaters across the Thames from the city.  If Shakespeare was considered an apprentice, he would have done every job imaginable within the company, an experience that could only yield a solid foundation in the art of production, the setting of scenes and props--the mechanics by which plays at the time impressed audiences.  And, as an apprentice actor, Shakespeare would have played many parts, including, if he looked boyish enough, female characters on occasion.  

So, the Lost Years are, in a sense, only lost to us: Shakespeare may have learned a substantial part of his craft during those years.  Unless some additional documentary evidence appears, we shall not know, but we can, like Shakespeare, imagine.

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gsenviro | College Teacher | (Level 1) Senior Educator

Posted April 1, 2015 at 3:54 PM (Answer #2)

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It is well-known that William Shakespeare moved to London from Stratford, a town 100 miles northwest of London. However, the move came after the birth of his twins, Hamnet and Judith in 1585. The "lost years" refer to a seven year period after the arrival of the twins when no reliable information can be found about Shakespeare's life. In fact, the information is rather sketchy and contradictory. The fact that Shakespeare left his family only three years after his marriage makes the speculations even more interesting.

Scholars point to various reasons, any one of which or a combination of which may be the real reason:

1) Stratford being a very small town, it did not offer any scope for Shakespeare and since the family was in financial need it would have made sense to go and find work in London.

2) Shakespeare was involved in a law suit with John Lambert, a neighbor, over some land.

3) He was not too happy with his marriage and wanted to move away to explore his life independently. 

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seaofknowledge | (Level 2) Assistant Educator

Posted April 1, 2015 at 5:11 PM (Answer #4)

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As others before have mentioned, we do not know exactly why Shakespeare left Stratford. All we have are speculations. Here are the various ideas for why Shakespeare may have left Stratford and moved to London:

Speculation #1: Shakespeare moved to London to pursue a career in theater. 

Speculation #2: Shakespeare poached Sir Robert Lucy's deer and was caught. He ran off to London to avoid punishment. (This is highly unlikely though and probably just a myth people came up with for amusement).

Speculation #3: Shakespeare's father, John, sued Shakespeare's uncle (from his mother's side) over an agreement around the time Shakespeare left London. The agreement essentially caused the loss of land that was to be inherited by Shakespeare in the future. This may have played a role in his decision to get away from Stratford.

Speculation #4: Shakespeare went to London for work in order to provide for his family financially. Shakespeare invested in tithe shares as well as property in Stratford after his move to London. So financial needs and the need to invest and guarantee the future of his family might have been a strong reason for the move.

Once again, these are speculations. It's possible that some of these are true but we will never know for sure.

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