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His First Poems

From mid-1592 to 1594, London authorities often closed the public theaters because of repeated outbreaks of plague. The need for new plays thus declined. At this time, Shakespeare began to write poems. The Elizabethans considered the writing of poetry much more important than the writing of plays. Shakespeare perhaps believed that by writing poems he might be able to win the praise that mere playwriting never received.

In 1593, Shakespeare's long poem Venus and Adonis was printed by Richard Field, a Stratford neighbor who had become a London printer. Shakespeare dedicated the poem to 19-year-old Henry Wriothesley, the Earl of Southampton. The poet may have believed that the dedication would win him the earl's favor and support. Venus and Adonis quickly became a success.

Field printed Shakespeare's next long poem, The Rape of Lucrece, in 1594. Shakespeare also dedicated this poem to the Earl of Southampton. The wording of the dedication suggests the possibility that the young nobleman had rewarded the author, probably financially, for his dedication in Venus and Adonis.

Both poems went through many editions during Shakespeare's lifetime. But their success did not lead Shakespeare to give up playwriting. After the public theaters were reopened in 1594, he began again to write plays. Indeed, Shakespeare was one of the few Elizabethan writers who concentrated almost solely on the theater as a career.

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