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As with any honest book about Shakespeare, Nicholl's book is forced to provide mainly context rather than actual details of the life (there aren't many). It does this very well, giving the reader a good sense of the London in which Shakespeare lived and of how it impinged on his life. The court case which is at the centre of the book and which provides the only known example of Shakespeare's actual words (as transcribed by a clerk anyway) tells us two things clearly: that Shakespeare was an approachable person, not aloof (he willingly acted as matchmaker at the house where he was a lodger) and, secondly, that like most of us he could be economical with the truth when it suited him. By claiming not to be able to recall the dowry promised to the newly weds by the landlord, Mountjoy (he had remembered well enough when talking to another participant in the court case), he remained loyal to an old friendship at the expense of letting down the couple whose marriage he had helped to arrange.
It is a good read, with some great insights, but I thought it could have done with better editing. For example. Nicholl dismisses the idea that Emilia Lanier is the Dark Lady because she told Simon Foreman that her husband's name was Alfonso (not William). Yet this is surely not incompatible with the idea that she was Will's mistress - in fact, it's part of the standard narrative that Alfonso was a waster who deserted her. I've re-read this bit several times, and can't really make sense of it. But I love the domestic detail in the book, and the insight it gives into the inhabitants of Silver Street. The clients of the small businesses there included surprisingly exalted people (including her Maj!)
I bought this book as I am currently researching a fairly obscure Elizabethan philanthropist who also live on Silver Street shortly after Shakespeare. So I thought I would be obliged to trawl through a rather academic work in order to find some useful information. But this book as a delight -well written, meticulously researched [as far as I can tell] and the short chapters are all helpfully focussed on one or two points, making it an easy reference book.
THE LODGER SHAKESPEARE starts with a clever insight. While we have millions of words written by Shakespeare, we have only a few words--a deposition in the case of Belott versus Mountjoy--that may reflect Shakespeare's spoken words. In TLS, Charles Nicholl builds from this deposition to create a story about the world of Shakespeare in 1603-1605, when the Bard rented a room from Christopher Mountjoy on Silver Street and had a role in persuading Stephen Belott, Mountjoy's apprentice, to marry his daughter. In the deposition, Shakespeare testifies about the shortchanging of the dowry.
Overall, I'd say Nicholl has mixed success with this story. On the plus side, Nicholl makes ingenious use of old maps, church registries, court records, and contemporary descriptions of Elizabethan and Jacobean London to create a plausible version of Shakespeare's life on Silver Street. In particular, I enjoyed his chapters on the probable appearance of the Mountjoy house, its neighborhood, its household stuff, and even Shakespeare's chamber--including the books on the Bard's shelves. This stuff is fantastic.
Further, Nicholl explains Shakespeare's decision to rent from the Mountjoys--a French couple in xenophobic London--with great insight. And, he shows how elements of the Mountjoy's trade--the creation of stylish and elaborate female headgears called tires--became metaphors in Shakespeare's plays. In TLS, Nicholl also offers perspective, establishing that the GREAT MAN was, in his days in London, a person in the entertainment business with a mere foothold at court. He was a good match for the Mountjoys who counted the Queen as a client for their tires.
On the other hand, the book does develop information about the Mountjoys, as well others who were deposed in this case, at greater length than this reader needed. While Shakespeare clearly knew and worked with these deponents, these were also ordinary people that Nicholl has pulled from history's dustbin. Yes, their stories enable Nicholl to identify subjects influencing Shakespeare's work. But the plays themselves get pushed to the side, as we learn about tire-making, prostitution, marriage customs, and so on in Jacobean London.
THE LODGER SHAKESPEARE is based on conscientious and inspired research and is a good read. Still, I think I learned more from
A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare: 1599
Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare
Shakespeare the Man
Although any explicit revelations about Shakespeare and his works is very speculative, the author has provided a fascinating picture of of London at that time and the neighborhood and house where Will dwelt for some years. I learned more about the tire makers trade than I thought I ever could, and that made the book worthwhile for me.