Shakespeare's Early Years, Lost Years
Shakspere might have received a good education at pre-school
then Stratford Grammar School – but we can only presume that he did
attend, for there is no evidence, just repeated belief that he did
as his father became “the Queen’s Officer” to the town.
Presuming Shakspere became Shakespeare, as a boy and youth,
grammar School would have fed his open and natural genius, and his
prodigious memory was then the tool which his spirit, nature, mind
and intellect drew upon for success in poetry and playmaking.
“Imagination is so incredibly rich that you have wealth there, even
if nowhere else in your life.”
What was he taught? There are no records from the Stratford
Grammar School for that period, just as Ben Jonson’s stay at
Westminster School was unrecorded, dependent only on his word that
he did. And he did not go on to University, either. If Shakspere did
become Shakespeare then his early grounding in many subjects must
have occurred at that Grammar School.
At another grammar school of the period, the quality of that
possible grounding is undeniable, something even to be envied today.
At 11 he would have met the trivium: grammar, logic and simple
rhetoric; and gems of wisdom and proverbs. When 13 he might have
been forced to leave, caused by his yeoman/ farmer/ merchant
father’s debt-ridden ignominy and social embarrassment.
But by then, he would have studied Lily’s Latin grammar, and some
Greek; and Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Virgil’s Aeneid, Lucian’s
His days might have included Cicero, Caesar, Demosthenes,
Xenophon, Livy, Isocrates, Apollonius, Homer, Sallust, Thucydides;
there would have been practical exercises changing prose to verse,
verse to prose. Truly, modern specialists say, a feast in education
and just the start needed towards further self-driven learning, as
university was not a practical option.
However, taking the Authorship Debate to extreme, the further
educated “Shakespeare” is supposed by some scholars today to have
had a familiarity or an acquaintance with 140 authors – though few
were taught in his time even at universities. Few books, many books,
the key to Shakspere is the life he led, Nature’s presentations to
him, and “anything that could be turned to account”.
The unanswered questions which follow his schooldays are: did the
young Shakspere start his training in theatre at 15-16 by joining a
visiting troupe? Did he find a mentor-patron before say 18-19?
Stratford-upon-Avon received a dozen visits by such troupes in a
decade or so as Shakspere grew from young boy at his Father’s knee
to young man... the period when his father went from merchant
prosperity, from high office, “The Queen’s Officer” or town High
Bailiff/Mayor, to that debt-ridden shame. John Shakspere seems to
have become involved in illicit and illegal wool ragging and was
fined or lost considerable sums, enough to make him hide from
creditors for years. His finances recovered much later – with his
Conventional wisdom has it that the young man married then went
to either Lancashire, to a rich Catholic House, becoming a
tutor/actor, or to London, starting, with no theatrical experience,
as a stage prompt.
Consider another path: that to gain his insight into matters
legal, he became a young 14-15 years old assistant to either
Stratford town clerk Henry Rogers, in his post 1570 to 1586; the
youthful Shakspere would have known Master Rogers through his father
John Shakspere, when in that influential high office.
OR young Shakspere joined Walter Roche, former schoolmaster
turned Stratford solicitor.
However, this was a young man-literary. The scent sniffs out
local Company my Lord Worcester’s Players or Servants. In the
troupe, just younger than Shakspere, was the formidable prodigy
Edward Alleyn and the experienced leader Robert Browne, who later
led other troupes on visits to the Continent.
A stage-struck and bright youngster, maybe with some of his own
fledgling poetry to show, might well have been taken on as
apprentice at 15 or 16, or as a hireling. Under the tutelage of a
senior player – why not Shakspere attached to Browne? – the young
provincial may well have toured the Worcester, Gloucester, Coventry
areas for several years. As one experienced thespian points out,
with writing skills and an engaging potential, a young talent like
Shakspere would have been welcome. And it would explain opportunity
to progress and yet keep in touch with family, visiting Stratford by
Another potential handicap overcome would have been his accent –
coming from a small town of 1,500 inhabitants, despite his father’s
eminence, before the financial fall, William’s intelligence would
have pin-pointed his Warwickshire accent for ‘treatment’. In this
website author’s own experience, his own strong local accent was
lost, naturally and painlessly, in three years – by keen ear, a
listening to the voice and voices, and determined practice:
snobbishness is not the factor, it is seeing a need to gain access
to larger circles and dissolve an impediment, that is the natural
Then, in 1585, when Shakspere was an experienced 21, did my Lord
Worcester’s Company disband? Were its main players – including
Shakspere - taken on by The Queen Elizabeth’s Men or the Company
begun by Lord Howard, Her Majesty’s new Lord High Admiral? If so,
the man from Stratford was now set on the steps to literary glory.
The next step, into twenty years of fruitful partnership, would be
to join my Lord Hunsdon’s Men/The Chamberlain’s Men/ The King’s
Men... he paid £50, it is said, to become a sharer in My Lord
As theatre grew in the 1580’s, poetry was still “Art” and a
nobleman or gentleman’s secret concern; theatrical poetry or prose
was not art. “I have hunted for players, juglers and such kinde of
creaturs” one harassed aristocrat wrote to another, about a
celebration being planned.
Shakspere studied and enthused over poesie, poetry. A Sonnet is
‘a short lyrical poem’ or ‘little song’. The Sonnet tradition, at
that time, was not fixed on realism or truth and, talented or
driven, aristocrats enjoyed the pleasure of composing and invention.
We presume the Shakespeare of the Sonnets possibly completed all 154
by the end of the 1590s, but they would have been passed around, in
Manuscript form, for years before.
They were not formally published till 1609 and then in a pirated
version. It is also reasonable to see the young Shakspere studying
the classical disciplines and writing poetry from his mid-teens, the
start of his “Lost Years”. What was his achievement, in creation of
the 154 Sonnets?
The knowledgeable give these insights: Shakespeare’s “smooth and
graceful” compositions abandoned in most cases Petrarch’s rhythmic
form and developed a ‘contemporary’ version, three quatrains and a
This was in search of ‘the music’ within the words. He shows
“consummate linguistic skills” to ensure his approach, intense and
economic, achieved compression and immediacy. Both Harvey and
Spencer saw Shakespeare as “one of the new age’s flourishing
We cannot know if his Sonnets, ranging from joy to melancholy to
disillusion, were to illustrate an enjoyable brilliance in wordplay
poetic (and in play: remember “Light seeking light, doth light of
light beguile” – a dazzling speech, in Love’s Labour’s Lost) OR to
recount ‘real’ experiences, love’s sufferings, hate’s blacknesses,
lust’s passions, spirit’s generosities...
The skill was to be bold but not to over-do it: Berowne/Biron
forswears “taffeta-phrases, silken terms precise, and three-piled
hyperboles”. Shakspere’s soul was, equally, troubled or ecstatic and
joyful - that his Sonnets apparently show, and his achievement was
to be one of the first, one of the few, in the English Renaissance
times, to emphasise and explore man’s Self.
Certainly, in spiritual terms, some see the higher knowledge of
the divine, worshipped in humility, in so many of the Sonnets.
He Shakspere/Shakespeare - “the English Ovid” - achieved in 1593
“acceptable fame in the times” for his Venus and Adonis (written a
year or more before). It was described as “witty, Ovidian and
sensuous”. His The Rape of Lucrece a year later was darker, more
rhetorical, making use of set pieces in his approach. It was
praised, but Venus was reprinted again and again, ten times in ten
years, and was very successful.