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Shakespeare's Income

From The Facts About Shakespeare. William Allan Neilson and Ashley Horace Thorndike.

While it is probable that the sale of Shakespeare's poems brought him in some financial return, he is not likely to have profited from the publication of his plays. The playwright at that time sold his product to the manager or company, and thereby gave up all rights. To the end of the sixteenth century managers usually paid from £5 to £11 for a new play, adding a bonus in the case of success, and sometimes a share of the proceeds of the second performance. During the first decade of Shakespeare's activity as a dramatist, then, we may calculate that he obtained for about twenty-one plays an average of about £10 each.... [The relative value of £10 is £2,120 in 2014. -- Shk Online.] During his second decade the prices for plays had so risen that he may be estimated to have received about twice as much from this source as in the early half of his career.

More profitable than playwriting was acting. Lee estimates Shakespeare's salary as an actor before 1599 at £100 a year at least, exclusive of special rewards for court performances, and we know that by 1635 an actor-shareholder, such as Shakespeare latterly was, had a salary of £180. Besides this, he became about 1599 a sharer, with Heming, Condell, Philips, and others, in the receipts of the Globe Theater, erected in 1597-8 by Richard and Cuthbert Burbage. The annual income from a single share was over £200, and Shakespeare may have had more than one. In 1610 he became a sharer also in the smaller Blackfriars Theater, after it had been acquired by the Burbages.

The evidence thus accumulated of Shakespeare's having acquired a substantial fortune is corroborated by what we know of the earnings of other members of his profession, and it leaves no mystery about the source of the capital which he invested in real property in Stratford and London.

How to cite this article:
Neilson, William Allan, and Ashley Horace Thorndike. The facts about Shakespeare. New York: The Macmillan company, 1913. Shakespeare Online. 20 Jan. 2014. < >.


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