How and why did William Shakespeare become famous?
William Shakespeare became famous beyond his lifetime through the publication of the First Folio containing 36 of 37 plays. Two members of Shakespeare's company felt the need to keep his works alive seeing as he was such an important person to them. John Heminges and Henry Condell had done a great service considering that most of Shakespeare's works were just kept around the theater as scripts for future use. While Shakespeare did receive reviews and commentary on his shows during his lifetime, his main success came from the performances which greatly engaged the crowd that attended such spectacles.
He remains famous for the reason that he created characters that seem to have an existence of their own; Hamlet, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet come to mind. Their spirit and the language Shakespeare used to enable them to come to life are what drew in audiences of the day and people now. The themes are also universal and do not have boundaries in time or place. Many of his plays can be set in the time for which it was written or can be set in modern times.
Think of Romeo and Juliet, the theme of love against seemingly impossible odds translates across many cultures and points in time. This is why the more modern version of this old classic did so well. The film version of Romeo and Juliet with Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes was able to tell the same story of two lovers separated by fate and family, in modern day Verona Beach. Even though they used the language of Shakespeare's day, the audience was able to be just as engaged with the story as audiences in Shakespeare's time would have been.