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Johannes fac Totum’?: Shakespeare’s First Contact with the Acting Companies


In 1592, the pamphlet Greenes Groatworth of Witte attacked “Shake-scene” as a “Johannes fac totum” with a “Tygers hart wrapt in a Players hyde.” These lines have been widely read as evidence that William Shakespeare began his career as an actor. The author of Greenes Groatworth, it is generally concluded, attacks Shakespeare as a professional player who has dared to intrude upon the playwright’s art. This article challenges that conventional interpretation of Greenes Groatworth. It examines key passages and contextualizes them through other documents, including Chettle’s Kind-Harts Dreame. It also looks at the career tracks of other playwrights, including Munday, Jonson, and Heywood. Shakespeare, it argues, is highly unlikely to have started out as an actor. Nor does it make sense to define him as a “player” in 1592. Placing Shakespeare as a literary dramatist and poet, this article makes the case for his early professional and stylistic closeness to writers such as Greene, Marlowe, Nashe, and Peele. The playwright’s exceptional closeness to the performers of his plays, it concludes, did not come about until later, with Shakespeare’s adoption into the Chamberlain’s Men fellowship in 1594.

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