London : William Shakespeare’s experience as a shareholder in a theatre company transformed the way the English playwright wrote his characters, an Oxford expert has claimed.

William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare

Dr Bart van Es Faculty of Oxford University’s Faculty of English Language and Literature argued that Shakespeare’s decision in 1594 to buy a one-eighth share in the Lord Chamberlain’s Men not only made him wealthy but meant that he got to know the actors he was writing for.

“Shakespeare is known as the first playwright with deep, distinctive characterisation and I believe he developed this because of his relationships with the company’s principal actors, which comes across in his plays after 1594,” explained Bart.

“He began like his literary contemporaries – writing for many different companies, often writings parts of plays, and living on a breadline type of existence.

“His early writing seems designed to achieve fame and to secure patronage by publishing poems like the Rape of Lucrece and Venus and Adonis,” he said.

Bart said that his decision to buy a share in the company not only freed Shakespeare financially – he soon bought the second biggest house in Stratford and even loaned money to his contemporaries – but also brought him into close contact with the actors performing his plays.

“Shakespeare came to be in the unique position of working and socialising with the actors in Lord Chamberlain’s Men. He knew and understood their personalities, and this shaped the characters he wrote for them,” he said.

“A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Love’s Labour’s Lost even feature rehearsal scenes where a large number of characters (such as Flute, Snug, and Bottom) are physically distinct; this kind of writing had never been attempted before.

“This separated Shakespeare from the world of the jobbing playwright, whose plays would have been performed by different companies and frequently rewritten,” he said.