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An interesting narrative detailing Shakespear's life and friends while lodging with the Mountjoy family. It looks into the court cases which gives readers the chance to actually hear the voice of the Bard, whilst describing the Jacobean life and lodgings where some well know works were written. We meet the people who become characters within the plays and learn a little of William himself. It was a great opportunity to learn details of the people who surrounded him. I enjoyed reading this book and think others will too, but this could have been due to my ulterior motive to find out about my family, I'm the 12th Great Granddaughter of Christopher Mountjoy/11th Great Granddaughter of Stephen Belott!
We should be turning the screws on every last scrap of contemporary information we have about Shakespeare, yet a lot of what is forensically examined here here has been dismissed or not even recognised as evidence by numerous biographers. Nicholl doesn't underestimate the value of small clues, and writes exactly the kind of book I wanted to read,given what we know. It isn't the disappointing series of overly speculative what ifs you get from the lesser Shakespeare biographies, but a winsome series of minor victories in the scholarly struggle to make the writer of the plays we know further connect with a man named William Shakespeare who was born in Stratford in 1564. (The premise of the book isn't to settle authorship, but it certainly dents Oxfordian assumptions a number of times). We are introduced to people Shakespeare knew and know what sort of dealings he had with them and they are not the usual suspects I've read about so many times. We read how living with the Mountjoys and associating with the writer and pandar George Wilkins in those times may have impacted his art. For example,in 1604 Shakespeare presided over a hand fasting. The only hand fasting central to any of his plays is one in a play called Measure for Measure, which received its first known performance in 1604. The hand fasting was an invented plot element not taken from the source he based his story on. As for Mr Wilkins, well, you'll have to read the book. Of course, these bare facts in themselves do not a five star biography make. It's Nicholl's relentless turn of the screw that does. It's not a perfect book, but the ratings system is approximate. Charles does make one or two obvious errors. He acknowledges John Fletcher wrote Henry VIII with Shakespeare but then immediately talks about one of Fletcher's scenes as if Shakespeare had written it. The line about 'quarrels, talk and tailors' is probably not by William, in my view. The second point is perhaps not to observe that Shakespeare was most likely a Catholic living in a land where Catholics were persecuted living with Calvinists (albeit probably not particularly devout) who had come from a land where protestants were persecuted. A paradox that would probably have appealed to Shakespeare, reflects his ability to see things from two sides and perhaps gave him some cover from the secret police. Of course this book probably contains wrong turnings which will be weeded out as the scholarship marches on, sifting whatever we can find weighing it against what we think we know. But I found it to be a thoroughly worthwhile read and look forward to what more can be dug up. I'd like to know more of the litigation and disputes we have from people in that area at that time to see if it can shed any further light.
The book by Charles Nicholl offers an exciting insight into William Shakespeare's life when he was lodging in London near Bishopsgate area. It follows the discovery early in the last century of a document listing Shakespeare as witness in a court case. The author has investigated all records he could find and gives a full and interesting picture of Shakespeare's life amongst the French immigrant community of Hugenots. He gives us some beautiful insights into the poet's writing in some of his major plays, how life around him influenced him visually. he quotes the lines from MacBeth: "Sleep. that knits the unravelled sleave of care..." explains its true meaning and spelling of sleave. There are several other beautiful and touching instances, one would like Nicholls to go through Shakespeare's works and explain much more.A good background to Shakespeare's life and times-even the predjudice against immigrants brings us up to date today. Shirley Mungapen.
I approached this book with some trepidation fearing that it would descend into purposeless detail. I have read the early chapters so far which have dispelled that fear. It is a very readable account of life in one part of London during WS's time there.
Much less dark than his wonderful book on Marlowe, this is wonderful in a very different way. There are fascinating details of Shakespeare's life and milieu, with perceptive suggestions of possible connections between that life and the writings that came out of it. This book is beautifully written too.