The Hireling Actor
Shakespeare probably began working as a hireling actor, taking whatever small roles were available.
PLAYS ROTATED EVERY DAY, SO IN A SINGLE SEASON I WOULD HAVE TO LEARN 100 MINOR PARTS OR SO.
He “did act exceedingly well”, according to the literary historian John Aubrey (1626-97), and played in Ben Jonson’s Every Man in His Humour (1598) and Sejanus His Fall (1603).
Shakespeare also acted in his own plays. There is a story of his brother …
“… having once seen him act a part in one of his own comedies, wherein being to personate a decrepit old man, he wore a long beard, and appeared so weak and drooping and unable to walk, that he was forced to be supported and carried by another person to a table, at which he was seated among company, who were eating, and one of them sung a song.”
This is the part of Adam in As You Like It, ll.iii.47-51.
He also reputedly played the Ghost in Hamlet, l.v.15-20.
I could a tale unfold whose lightest word
Would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood,
Make thy two eyes like stars start from their spheres,
Thy knotted and combined locks to part,
And each particular hair to stand an end,
Like quills upon the fearful porpentine.