We can try to imagine Shakespeare’s position in that dreadful June of 1592 when he was deprived of the source of his livelihood. How else could he make a living with his pen? Apart from the theatre, which was one of the most lucrative outlets for writers, there were other more or less disreputable forms of writing from which a little money could be made. Various kinds of poetry were fashionable. There was also a vogue of prose romances that developed in court circles and spread beyond them. Prose romances have a place in the early development of the English novel, though they were distinguished by self-consciously elegant style and an interest in abstract debate rather than by developed plot and characters. At a less literary level there was pamphleteering, a forerunner of journalism. Pamphlets were short tracts, usually on controversial political or religious matters, or relating sensational stories about the criminal underworld. Many writers, as Robert Greene did, tried their hand at more than one of these. But if we think of a profession as a calling, a more or less honorable means of earning a living, then writing as a profession barely existed at all. In some ways the last years of the reign of Elizabeth can be understood as a time when a few writers began the lengthy struggle to establish their work as a respectable activity; these were all, in effect, upstart crows, from Spenser through to Jonson. Some of them never even thought of themselves primarily as writers; writing was a means to an end, an enterprise that they hoped would get them into service in the court through the patronage system. Almost all writers depended in some way upon patronage.
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