24 April 2007
How Will Shakespeare got his start minding the horses
Brian Micklethwait

Did you know that today is Shakespeare’s birthday?  Well, it is.

Recently I’ve been reading William Shakespeare: His Life and Work by Anthony Holden.  Very good.  In this, Holden quotes (pp. 87-88) Ben Johnson’s description of Shakespeare’s first theatrical job when he first arrived in London.  He held the horses.  And very well, apparently, although Johnson’s account is anything but first hand.

When Shakespeare fled to London . . . his first expedient was to wait at the door of the playhouse, and hold the horses of those that had no servants, that they might be ready again after the performance.  In this office he became so conspicuous for his care and readiness, that in a short time every man as he alighted called for Will. Shakespeare, and scarcely any other waiter was trusted with a horse while Will. Shakespeare could be had.  This was the first dawn of better fortune.  Shakespeare finding more horses put into his hand than he could hold, hired boys to wait under his inspection, who, when Will. Shakespeare was summoned, were immediately to present themselves, I am Shakespeare’s boy, Sir.  In time Shakespeare found higher employment, but as long as the practice of riding to the playhouse continued, the waiters that held the horses retained the appellation of Shakespeare’s Boys.

If he ever appeared on the Michael Parkinson show, that’s what Shakespeare would probably be made to talk about.

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