No other dramatist has been performed even remotely as often on the world stage as Shakespeare. The plays have often been adapted in performance. During the 18th and 19th centuries, the era of the great acting stars and it is difficult to assess Shakespeares reputation in his own lifetime and shortly after. England had little modern literature before the 1570s, and detailed commentaries on modern authors did not begin to appear until the reign of Charles I. The facts about his reputation can be surmised from fragmentary evidence, modern plays were considered ephemeral and even somewhat disreputable entertainments by some contemporaries, the new Bodleian Library explicitly refused to shelve plays. Some of Shakespeares plays, particularly the history plays, were reprinted frequently in cheap quarto form, others took decades to reach a 3rd edition. After Ben Jonson pioneered the canonisation of modern plays by printing his own works in folio in 1616, Shakespeare was the playwright to be honoured by a folio collection. That this folio went into another edition within 9 years indicates he was held in high regard for a playwright. The dedicatory poems by Ben Jonson and John Milton in the 2nd folio were the first to suggest Shakespeare was the poet of his age. These expensive reading editions are the first visible sign of a rift between Shakespeare on the stage and Shakespeare for readers, a rift that was to widen over the two centuries. In his 1630 work Timber or Discoveries, Ben Jonson praised the speed and ease with which Shakespeare wrote his plays as well as his contemporarys honesty, during the Interregnum, all public stage performances were banned by the Puritan rulers. Though denied the use of the stage, costumes and scenery, Shakespeare was among the many playwrights whose works were plundered for these scenes. Among the most common scenes were Bottoms scenes from A Midsummer Nights Dream, Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, and the Beaumont and Fletcher team were among the most valuable properties and remained popular after Restoration playwriting had gained momentum. In the elaborate Restoration London playhouses, designed by Christopher Wren, Shakespeares plays were staged with music, dancing, thunder, lightning, wave machines, the texts were reformed and improved for the stage. A notorious example is Irish poet Nahum Tates happy-ending King Lear, the incomplete Restoration stage records suggest Shakespeare, although always a major repertory author, was bested in the 1660–1700 period by the phenomenal popularity of Beaumont and Fletcher. In the early 18th century, however, Shakespeare took over the lead on the London stage from Beaumont, in the 18th century, Shakespeare dominated the London stage, while Shakespeare productions turned increasingly into the creation of star turns for star actors. There appears to have no issues with Barry and Garrick, in their late thirties, playing adolescent Romeo one season. In September 1769 Garrick staged a major Shakespeare Jubilee in Stratford-upon-Avon which was an influence on the rise of bardolatry
The Chandos portrait, commonly assumed to depict William Shakespeare, "the man who of all Modern, and perhaps Ancient Poets, had the largest and most comprehensive soul" (John Dryden, 1668), "our myriad-minded Shakespeare" (S. T. Coleridge, 1817).
Thomas De Quincey: "O, mighty poet! Thy works are... like the phenomena of nature, like the sun and the sea, the stars and the flowers".
A 1596 sketch of a performance in progress on the platform or apron stage of the typical circular Elizabethan open-roof playhouse The Swan.