To this point, we have seen that Shakespeare could have left Stratford by the late

1570s at the earliest, and that he quite plausibly arrived in London between 1588

and 1590. Many biographers propose Shakespeare joined a playing company in the

provinces at some point during the intervening years. It is therefore necessary to

consider the provincial playing conditions he would have encountered and to set out

what is known about provincial activity between about 1577 and 1588. Usually, these

years are associated with the rise of London commercial theatre, The Theatre (and

perhaps Newington Butts) having opened in 1576, The Curtain in 1577, and The

Rose in 1587. As such, this period has often been characterized as the beginning of

the end of provincial playing, a time when companies wanted to center their activities

in London and toured only when forced to by plague or other playing inhibitions

(Bentley, Profession 178).1 According to this view, touring, while still a necessity

even for London companies, was an uncomfortable, dirty, grueling, and not especially

rewarding activity undertaken only to offset London misfortunes (Chambers, Stage

ii.6; Bentley, Profession 178-9). Proponents of this view, like G.E. Bentley, point

to declining touring records in the 1590s and complaints from playing companies

and dramatists as evidence of the undesirability of touring (Profession 180-84). In

the words of a petition made by Lord Strange’s Men in or about 1593, traveling was

“intolerable ... and the continuance thereof will be a mean to bring us to division and

separation whereby we shall ... be undone” (183).