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The Lodger Shakespeare: His Life on Silver Street [Audiobook, CD, Unabridged] [Audio CD]

Charles Nicholl , Simon Vance


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Synopsis

A historical account of Shakespeare's participation in an 1612 court case involving an unpaid marriage dowry offers insight into the bard's obscure private life, in a recording that draws on a wide variety of sources to piece together the environment in which such plays as "Othello," "Measure for Measure," and "King Lear" were written.

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On Monday 11 May 1612, William Shakespeare gave evidence in a lawsuit at the Court of Requests in Westminster. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Amazon.com: 4.1 out of 5 stars  19 reviews
36 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Avaunt ye Baconites! 1 Feb 2008
By A. Hickman - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Charles Nicholl is on a roll. This is at least the fourth Nicholl book I've read (the others being "Borderlines," "The Reckoning," and "Somebody Else"), and each has been better than the last. Nothing could be more mundane, on its surface, than a book about one of the houses where Stratford property owner and family man William Shakespeare lodged when writing his plays in early Jacobean London. Surprisingly, however, the story of how he tendered his services in bringing about a "handfasting" (or betrothal) of his head-tire-making landlord's daughter and his apprentice, and the subsequent story of the couple's suing (some eight years later) of that landlord for failing to pay a promised dowry, makes for compulsive reading. Along the way, we learn something about the seamier side of Shakespeare's neighborhood, as well as the surprising character of some of his neighbors and acquaintances. These latter include a fortune-telling "doctor," Simon Forman, who had the ear of England's distaff elite, and a brothel-keeping poetaster (and the bard's collaborator on "Pericles"), George Wilkins. How all these characters come together makes for a fascinating journey into research on one of literature's most enigmatic geniuses, William Shakespeare himself. The text is supplemented by "the chief documents relating to the Bellott-Mountjoy case," most notable of which is the playwright's own 1612 deposition, signed "Willm Shaks." Francis Bacon could never have made this stuff up.
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Inspired Conjecture 5 April 2008
By Ethan Cooper - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
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, and Shakespeare the Man.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A few more glimpses into a life that remains one of the most scrutinized in literary history 25 Feb 2008
By Bookreporter - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Search the name "William Shakespeare" on Google and you will obtain 46,300,000 hits. The Library of Congress lists 7,000 volumes with Shakespeare as their subject. He is the most celebrated playwright in the English language, yet the mysteries of his life are such that Shakespeare scholar Charles Wallace observed that "every Shakespeare biography is five percent fact and 95 percent conjecture." In this vast ocean of material, one would think that there could be little new information about the man who lived and wrote more than four centuries ago.

THE LODGER SHAKESPEARE by Charles Nicholl offers insight into a little-known episode of Shakespeare's life and provides readers with something truly unique. In his plays and sonnets, Shakespeare gave his audience over one million written words. This book offers something far different: the actual spoken words of the man who still remains a mystery as a person to those who know him well as a writer.

During the early years of the 17th century, around the period when he was writing "Othello," "All's Well that Ends Well" and "Measure for Measure," Shakespeare lodged in London with a French family named Mountjoy. Christopher and Marie Mountjoy's daughter, Mary, was involved in a romantic relationship with Stephen Belott, the Mountjoys' apprentice. The young Belott appeared reluctant to enter into matrimony, and the senior Mountjoys sought Shakespeare's help to convince the reluctant suitor of the wisdom of marriage.

It turned out that Belott's reluctance was due in part to his concern that the father would not honor his obligation to provide the promised dowry. Shakespeare assured the young couple that "they should have a sum of money for a portion from the father." Not only did Shakespeare encourage the marriage, he had Mary and Stephen join hands and swear commitment, a legally binding ceremony identical to the one lightheartedly undertaken by Orlando and Rosalind in "As You Like It.

In 1612 Shakespeare was called upon to give testimony concerning the dowry that Belott had never received. His statement, what the law would now call a deposition, was transcribed by a court clerk, reviewed by the 48-year-old playwright and then signed. The document is one of six known Shakespeare signatures, the earliest discovered.

While knowledge of Shakespeare's involvement in the Mountjoy family battle has been common knowledge since the discovery of the court papers in 1909, Nicholl provides readers with a vivid portrayal of the Bard's life and times during the period when he resided with them and wrote several of his greatest plays. Scholars have long debated how Shakespeare came to write many of the plays that bear his name. The theories surrounding authorship of his work range far and wide. Regardless of one's views, there can be little debate that events inspired his works. It is Nicholl's view that the time spent living with the Mountjoys may have influenced some of his later plays. "All's Well that Ends Well" features a young man being forced into marriage, a not-uncommon event during the Elizabethan times when Shakespeare lived. Perhaps his experience with the young couple he met on Silver Street shaped that play.

THE LODGER SHAKESPEARE is very much like the plays Shakespeare crafted in his lifetime. At one level, it is simple and straightforward and can be enjoyed by ordinary readers. At a higher level, Shakespeare scholars will find important biographical materials. In either respect, the characters introduced in this historical biography will provide readers a few more glimpses into a life that remains one of the most scrutinized in literary history.

--- Reviewed by Stuart Shiffman
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A "definitive" account of one episode in Shakespeare's life 3 April 2008
By Tad Davis - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
It's hard to imagine how anyone could think of anything else to say on the subject of the Mountjoy depositions, now that Charles Nicholl has had his say. It's a relatively minor incident in the life of Shakespeare, but it offers several advantages, even over the kind of detailed analysis of a single period that James Shapiro offered in "1599". For one thing, as Nicholl notes, it's one of the only times on record that people quoted Shakespeare directly -- not his plays, but his everyday conversation. It's the only time on record that he offered an opinion about another human being. The neighborhood, the business, and the associates open up fascinating avenues of inquiry into what life was like for someone living in London in the early 17th century.

The analysis is based on Nicholl's examination of primary documents from legal and other archives. It corrects and extends the basic known facts of the case. Every lead is assiduously pursued until it reaches a natural point of diminishing returns. Hence my description of it as "definitive." (On the other hand, there's always the possibility of fresh discoveries, hence my putting that description in quotes.)

As a species of biography, Nicholl's book is at the other end of the pole from Stephen Greenblatt's "Will in the World." To me, the comparison is all to Nicholl's advantage: firmly anchored in documented fact; based on primary documents; admitting when leads have reached dead ends, rather than continuing to build them up into layer upon layer of speculation. It's instructive to note that the incident on which Nicholl's book is based rates barely a mention in Greenblatt's biography -- even though it was one of the best-documented incidents in Shakespeare's life, even BEFORE Nicholl took up the case.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing and Frustrating 22 Sep 2011
By David L. Randall - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I've read several of Nicholl's books, and have liked most of them, especially "A Cup of News," his biography of Thomas Nashe. But I didn't care for this one. I was curious to see how he could make an entire book out of five lines of testimony given in a civil case. He does this by introducing a lot of interesting but not very pertinent material about life in Elizabethan England; this is actually the best part of the book. If you're interested in learning anything about Shakespeare, you'll be disappointed, as I was. One thing I found particularly irritating is Nicholl's presentation of speculation as established fact. He repeats the old story of Robert Greene refering to Shakespeare as "a green crow," when modern research identifies Edward Allyn as a far more likely target of Greene's criticism. At one point in the book he states that someone was Shakespeare's fellow student at the Stratford Grammar School, when there's no evidence Shakespeare was ever in attendence there. This would be acceptable if the statements were identified as theories, but they are presented as matters of fact. Another thing I found disconcerting is Nicholl's use of his own previous works as references. All in all, this book was a waste of my time.
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