Between 1595 and 1600 Shakespeare faced a series of adversities that no doubt affected him profoundly, even as he continued to produce first-rate plays at a blistering pace. Many of the adversities that arose during this time related to the precariousness of the theater. In 1595 the Lord Chamberlain’s Men were preparing to move into a new theater in the Blackfriars district of London, when the Countess Elizabeth intervened. Though a strict Puritan, the Countess’s objection to the Blackfriars theater had less to do with morality than with her concern about ragged crowds flooding into an already cramped area of town. She used her connections among the nobility to ban the company from their new theater, leaving them in serious financial trouble. The following year brought the death of Henry Carey, the patron of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. His death placed the company’s future in jeopardy, and it survived in part because another patron adopted the players, but also because the company underwent a restructuring that involved the actors themselves, Shakespeare included, taking a financial stake in the company. The construction of the famous Globe Theater in 1599 ensured the company’s survival into the next century.
Aside from the challenges of surviving as a theater company in London, perhaps the greatest adversity Shakespeare faced during this period was the death of his only son, Hamnet. Shakespeare probably received word of his son’s illness sometime in the spring of 1596, and though we can’t know for certain, he most likely returned to Stratford to attend his son’s burial. But Shakespeare would not have been able to stay in Stratford for long. The death of Henry Carey came quick on the heels of Hamnet’s passing, which means that Shakespeare probably returned to London to deal with the loss of his company’s patron. Scholars speculate that though Shakespeare no doubt grieved Hamnet’s death at the time, this grief would not find expression in his writing until around 1600, when he wrote the play that bears his dead son’s name—“Hamnet” and “Hamlet” were synonymous at the time. If this is true, then Shakespeare’s expression of grief takes an unexpected form in the play. Instead of the central grief being that of a beloved son’s death, the play centers on the murder of a cherished father.