William Shakespeare, the Bard of Avon, was a popular and "respected" writer during his lifetime, but his rise to pre-eminence as the greatest of all English-speaking authors did not come until several centuries later. Shakespeare's works became idolized by Victorian England in the 19th century, and his stature has never been questioned since.
Shakespeare "was never revered in his lifetime," and he received his share of negative criticism. He was generally regarded "below John Fletcher and Ben Jonson," but other critics rated him as equal to Geoffrey Chaucer and Edmund Spenser. However, Shakespeare's standing was not totally lost on his contemporaries. Jonson himself called him the "soul of the age... a wonder of our stage." Poet/critic John Dryden admired Jonson, but "I love Shakespeare." King James I must have felt a likewise sentiment, installing Shakespeare's plays as the core of his royal company, the King's Men.