Matie” (Chambers, iv.164). The Chamberlain’s payees were “Willm Kempe Willm

Shakespeare & Richarde Burbage.” These then were three of the most prominent

players in the new company. Such prominence in 1594 almost certainly suggests each

of these three had enjoyed some notoriety prior to joining the Chamberlain’s. Kempe

had been a notable player for both Leicester’s and Strange’s Men. Burbage cannot be

definitely connected to any company before the Chamberlain’s, but he likely played

with whatever companies performed at the Theatre before the Chamberlain’s took

up residence there in June 1594. But what about Shakespeare? He does not appear

in any lists of players before this record, and no family connections tied him to any

particular venue. He had written successful plays by this point, but the evidence

about which companies performed his plays, and which company repertories he was

familiar with, point in several directions: Pembroke’s, Strange’s, Sussex’s, and the

Queen’s Men are the most obvious. Certainly Shakespeare must have been in one

acting company or another, but which? If we could just read his plays and consider

the other available evidence one more time, or put some new spin on the question,

perhaps the answer will at last emerge ...