London’s first permanent playhouse had been established in the 1570s, and by the 1590s professional theatre was big business. During the closure of the theatres some companies went out of business, and when the theatres were reopened in 1594 Shakespeare began to write exclusively for a new company, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, in which he was a shareholder. The Lord Chamberlain’s Men included Richard Burbage, who was considered the greatest actor of his day. Burbage was almost certainly the first actor to play all of Shakespeare’s lead roles, from Romeo to Lear. The Lord Chamberlain’s Men quickly became London’s most popular theatre company. Shakespeare was rich and famous. He bought a mansion in Stratford. In 1599 the Lord Chamberlain’s Men built their own theatre, the Globe, on the south bank of the Thames. Later that year Shakespeare wrote
, which opens by asking its audience to imagine “the vasty fields of France” crammed inside the new theatre, “this wooden O.” Henry V picks up the story of fun-loving Prince Harry, who spent Henry IV Parts I and II lounging in taverns. Now he is king, and he’s beginning to feel the weight of the world on his shoulders.