Who was Shakespeare? What kind of character was he? Historical sources are very scarce, but a story told by his contemporaries sheds some light on him. It was jotted down in March 1602 by John Manningham, a law student, but the episode may have already been in circulation for a few years. It goes like this:
Upon a time when Burbage (the star of the theatre company to which Shakespeare belonged) 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 III. Shakespeare, overhearing their conclusion, went before, was entertained, and at his game ere Burbage came. Then message being brought that Richard III was at the door, Shakespeare caused return to be made that William the Conquerer was before Richard III.