John Manningham was a contemporary of William Shakespeare, and the two of them had mutual friends. Manningham recorded a short anecdote in his diary about Shakespeare and Shakespeare’s friend and leading actor, Richard Burbage.
From Manningham’s diary, from an entry dated March 13, 1601 (standard spelling, punctuation):
Upon a time when Burbage played Richard III. There was a citizen grown so far in liking with him, that before she went from the play, she appointed him to come that night unto her by the name of Richard the Third. Shakespeare, overhearing their conclusion, went before, was entertained and at his game, ere Burbage came. Then message being brought that Richard the Third was at the door, Shakespeare caused return to be made that William the Conqueror was before Richard the Third. (Shakespeare’s name William.)
I love this story.
(I should point out that Manningham’s anecdote doesn’t say Shakespeare pretended to be Burbage. The Daily Mail also misquotes Shakespeare, writing “William the Conqueror came before Richard III.” They seem to be fine with hard-selling a good, mostly-true story. The completely-true version was already good enough, wasn’t it?)
For Internet searching purposes, here’s the original:
Vpon a tyme when Burbidge played Richard III. there was a citizen grone soe farr in liking with him, that before shee went from the play shee appointed him to come that night vnto hir by the name of Richard the Third. Shakespeare ouerhearing their conclusion went before, was intertained and at his game ere Burbidge came. Then message being brought that Richard the Third was at the dore, Shakespeare caused returne to be made that William the Conqueror was before Richard the Third. Shakespeare’s name William.
And here’s a starting place for Manningham’s diary: Diary of John Manningham, of the Middle Temple, and of Bradbourne, Kent, barrister-at-law, 1602-1603
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