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First, it is important to realize that, though Shakespeare is virtually the only Elizabethan playwright studied in high school and undergraduate school, there are many excellent playwrights adumbrated by his fame—Jonson, Kyd, Marlowe, etc., etc.—and that Elizabethan theatre was, as a public entertainment, exceedingly popular with Elizabethans of every social class. So Shakespeare’s success during his lifetime should be put into perspective. First, Shakespeare was very prolific, with something close to fourty plays to his credit. Secondly, he was part-owner in the theatre company (the Queen’s Men, later the King’s Men) that put on his plays, so he had a ready outlet for his work, and knew his actors’ best features, often writing characters specifically for them; his career stretched over several decades. Thirdly, he was on good terms with the royal court (some say even a nobleman himself), where his company performed often, because he treated the historical figures, related to Queen Elizabeth, fairly and positively. Finally, he was a savvy businessman, giving the London crowds what they wanted in the way of drama—characters they could relate to, action, love stories, intrigue, high comedy and low slapstick, etc. By securing a dedicated venue (Globe Theatre) guaranteeing a steady outlet and a place where his followers could always find his entertainments, he built a marketable “signature.” Finally, his plays were treated as literature because quartos were printed and sold in conjunction with the productions, thereby spreading his creative poetic work throughout England. When his friends gathered his work together in the 1616 Folio, it was an acknowledgement of his remarkable achievements during his lifetime.
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