Scholars use the phrase "lost years" to refer to the period between the baptism of the twins Hamnet and Judith and Shakespeare’s first-known appearance in the London theater scene in 1592. No documentary evidence from this period has survived, and the silence in Shakespeare’s record has led biographers into speculation. Two key questions animate this speculation. First, why did Shakespeare leave Stratford? And second, how did Shakespeare find his way into the London theater scene? In answer to the first question, scholars hypothesize that Shakespeare left Stratford due to some kind of conflict with the wealthy gentleman Sir Thomas Lucy. Seventeenth-century biographers such as Richard Davies and Nicholas Rowe believed it unlikely that Shakespeare would leave Stratford without provocation, and they speculated that Shakespeare got involved in deer poaching. Rowe claimed that Shakespeare got caught in Lucy’s deer park, that "he was prosecuted by that gentleman . . . somewhat too severely," and that the experience inspired Shakespeare’s departure. Modern scholars view this account with skepticism and instead posit that Shakespeare’s conflict with Lucy may have been related to the gentleman’s involvement in militant anti-Catholic activities. In the modern account, Shakespeare may have left Stratford in an attempt to conceal his Catholic loyalties.
How, then, did Shakespeare find himself a part of the London theater scene? One theory has it that Shakespeare may have joined up with a traveling theater troupe and made his way to London as a player in their company. If it’s true that he spent time in the north before his marriage and that he made contact with Lord Strange’s Men, then it’s possible that he renewed communication with that troupe and joined their ranks. However, it’s equally likely that Shakespeare could have joined one of several troupes that played in towns near Stratford in the year or two following the birth of Hamnet and Judith. A particularly intriguing theory has it that Shakespeare joined the court players of Queen Elizabeth herself, a troupe known as the Queen’s Men. The Queen’s Men played in Stratford in 1587, and they were shorthanded after one of their principal actors, William Knell, had been killed in a brawl with another actor. If Shakespeare joined the Queen’s Men as a novice actor, that may have provided his ticket into the London theater scene.