Date of Award


Document Type




First Advisor

Steve Mentz

Second Advisor

Gregory Maertz

Third Advisor

Stephen Sicari


Part of what has led to fetishizing Shakespeare both inside and outside of the academy is the inexplicable way he arrived on the London writing scene. Though scholars have searched for years trying to trace the path that led a young Shakespeare out of rural Warwickshire to the bustling streets of London, very little is known about the man himself in the time leading up to his arrival and first being called an “upstart crow” by Robert Greene in 1592. This void has become known as the “lost years,” and because there is so little information save a few documents bearing Shakespeare’s name, the mystery itself serves to feed the myth. The problem, as I see it, is in the approach: we are always looking for Shakespeare. The narrative built over the last few hundred years has at its core an assumption such genius must have been as recognized back then as it is today, and by virtue it must have left a trace. In this dissertation I plan to take a much different approach to those infamous “lost years,” looking beyond Shakespeare out into the periphery of the literary landscape that led up to his appearance in 1592. By focusing primarily on the genre of pamphlets and exploring not just the writers themselves but the conversations they were having about writing and what it meant to be a professional author, I feel it possible to better understand the environment that helped mold the figure we know as Shakespeare. As a foundation, I will examine writers like Robert Greene. Thomas Nashe, and Gabriel Harvey, and the controversies involving these men within London’s late 16th century literary landscape—controversies traditionally overlooked as having little to no bearing on Shakespeare’s ascent in popularity. By decentering Shakespeare, my goal in this work is to demystify some of the legend created by our cultural obsession with the Bard, and in doing so breathe new life into a genre long overshadowed by that very obsession.