Shakespeare had his longest and most intimate relationship with the theater company known as the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. This company began as far back as the 1560s, but under a different name: Hunsdon’s Men. In the Elizabethan period, troupes of players were generally referred to by their patron’s noble title, and before 1585 the patron of this group, Henry Carey, was the first Lord Hunsdon. In 1585, however, he was appointed to the office of Lord Chamberlain, and by 1590 his troupe had become known as the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. It isn’t clear when Shakespeare joined the troupe, but we have records showing that by 1595 the playwright had a financial stake in the company. Henry Carey’s death in 1596 placed the company’s future in jeopardy. But Carey’s son George, the second Lord Hunsdon, adopted the company and saved it. The troupe was again known as Hunsdon’s Men until 1597, when George took office as Lord Chamberlain and the name changed yet back once more. It would remain the Lord Chamberlain’s Men until 1603, when the newly crowned King James I took the company under his royal patronage. From then on the Lord Chamberlain’s Men would be known as the King’s Men.
Despite the turmoil caused by Henry Carey’s death and the frequent changes of the company’s name, the core membership of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men remained consistent over time. Aside from Shakespeare, who acted in the company and wrote exclusively for it, the most famous member was Richard Burbage. Burbage enjoyed a reputation for being the greatest actor of his day, and he almost certainly originated many of Shakespeare’s most iconic roles, from Romeo to King Lear. With Shakespeare penning many of the company’s plays, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men quickly rose to prominence as London’s most popular theater troupe. Though Shakespeare’s repertoire helped make them famous, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men also performed works by prominent playwrights like Ben Jonson. In the late 1590s the company played in a number of public theaters, including one known as the Theater, which had been built by Richard Burbage’s father. In 1596 the Theater closed because the landowner refused to renew the lease, and Burbage’s father built another theater at Blackfriars. But the new theater closed shortly after it opened due to complaints from neighboring landowners. In dire financial straits, the company repurposed the materials from the Theater to construct the world’s most famous theater, the Globe, which would remain the company’s home for years to come.