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.