Long ago when I was in high school I read and enjoyed Shakespeare of London by Marchette Chute, an attempt to reconstruct William Shakespeare’s life and times as a celebrated dramatist. Thus I was attracted to this similarly themed book The Lodger: Shakespeare on Silver Street by Charles Nicholl. This book is built upon one scrap of the public record which includes a rare instance of Shakespeare’s signature which is upon a deposition in a court case regarding a bride’s dowry. That dowry is unpaid by Christopher Mountjoy who with his wife Mary are French immigrants living in London and manufacturing head-dresses for women. Mountjoy also rents out rooms in his home and thus is Shakespeare’s landlord as Shakespeare takes a room to live in while working in the theaters of London.
From this court record, Nicholl extrapolates details about Shakespeare’s life in London around the time that he turned forty. He builds his case on public records, written experiences of Shakespeare’s contemporaries, the plays and poems of Shakespeare himself and lots and lots of speculation. It is at times fascinating, tantalizing, and just down right irritating, but mostly fascinating. We learn a lot about what houses were like in the Mountjoy’s Cripplegate neighborhood, the trade of “tire-making”, 17th-century marriage practices, the immigrant experience, and the solitary and bawdy aspects of working in the the theater. Nicholls also speculates about Shakespeare’s atypical positive view of foriegners in his plays as well as the attention to detail in apparrell that may have been influenced by Shakespeare’s association with the Mountjoys.
If you’re interested in learning about the life of Shakespeare you’re probably going to be disappointed by this book, but on the other hand you will get a healthy dose of “his times” which is not a bad thing. Nicholls is both detailed and imaginative and always lively in his writing even at the times where the details may grow tedious.
Author Nicholl, Charles.
Title The lodger Shakespeare [sound recording] : his life on Silver Street / Charles Nicholl.
Publication Info. Old Saybrook, CT : Tantor Audio, 2008.
Description 8 sound discs (9 hrs.) : digital ; 4 3/4 in.