“It has become a commonplace of Shakespearian biography that, from roughly his age of twenty to his age of twenty-eight, we encounter the ‘lost years.’ But no years are ever wholly lost. There may be a gap in chronology, but the pattern of a life may be discerned obliquely and indirectly.” - Peter Ackroyd in Shakespeare the Biography
From the birth of his twins to his arrival on the London theatre scene, we have no record of what Shakespeare was doing. This isn’t from a lack of trying, but if you weren’t getting baptised, married or buried, if you weren’t involved in a court case or a land purchase, and you weren’t a member of the nobility, you basically didn’t exist. If no one was writing about you, there would be no record. On top of that, Elizabethan record keeping wasn’t exactly top notch and there were quite a few fires thrown in there for good measure.
What does this all mean? Well, it means we will never be able to say for 100% certainty what Shakespeare was doing during these years. We can make educated guesses and speculate, but until a magic document shows up, there’s no irrefutable proof. Not all hypotheses are created equal though, so it is worth examining the most prevalent theories and how likely or unlikely they are. Which is exactly what Eli and I will be doing today. Strap on your deductive reasoning caps and let’s explore Shakespeare’s lost years.
Primary research sources:
Shakespeare: The Biography by Peter Ackroyd
The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust
Teller of Tales by Kevin MacLeod
Minstrel Guild by KevinMacLeod
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