The Hireling Playwright
He had been writing poetry, and he began writing plays. His first might have been The Two Gentlemen of Verona, or an early version of Hamlet. He possibly wrote the first two acts of Edward III and collaborated on The Book of sir Thomas More (adapted by Anthony Munday). The manuscript of Sir Thomas More survives. It is written in six different hands. The three folio pages of “Hand D” were identified in 1916 as being by Shakespeare.
IF THIS IS SO, THEY ARE THE ONLY SCENES WE HAVE IN SHAKESPEARE’S OWN HANDWRITING.
All the other play manuscripts and letters and notebooks have been lost. All that remain are a few signatures on legal documents.
Shakespeare’s scene in Sir Thomas More is rapidly composed, barely punctuated, and extravagantly spelt (the name “More” is spelt in three different ways) - but it has a vivacious dramatic energy, as when More attempts to quell the clamorous crowd (Sir Thomas More, Addition II, 82-7).
… BY THIS PATTERN NOT ONE OF YOU SHOULD LIVE AN AGED MAN, FOR OTHER RUFFIANS, AS THEIR FANCIES WROUGHT, WITH SELF-SAME HAND, SELF REASONS, AND SELF RIGHT, WOULD SHARK ON YOU, AND MEN LIKE RAVENOUS FISHES WOULD FEED ON ONE ANOTHER.
The play was considered seditious and probably not performed. These pages show that Shakespeare was a fluent writer, a reviser of his own and others’ work, a collaborator, an editor. In other words, Shakespeare’s early career was as a pen for hire.