Friday, May 9, 2008

Book Review: The Lodger Shakespeare


The Lodger Shakespeare: His life on Silver Street by Charles Nicholl

In the grand tradition of Will in the World and 1599, Nicholl's new books is not so much a biography of Shakeapeare but a snapshot of the world in which he lived and how it might have affected his writing. Unlike the previous books, however, Nicholl narrows his focus by concentrating on Shakespeare's court appearance, the only known documentation of Shakespeare speaking in his own voice. This results in a portrait of the Mountjoy family of Silver Street, with whom Shakespeare lived in the early 1600's, and speculations as to the family's interactions both with each other and their famous lodger.

Like any book on Shakespeare, a large part of Nicholl's arguments are based on speculation and inference. Some of these seem plausible (Mary Mountjoy as contributing to his lost-daughter themes in the later plays, the appearances of brothel scenes around the time he was collaborating with a pimp) while some still seem like a hefty jump (Marie Mountjoy's supposed affair stands out in my mind as more of a good story than a likely actuality), but the picture he paints of the quotidien experience Shakespeare might have had is still an interesting contrast to the larger picture contextualization of Greenblatt and Shapiro. In keeping with this vein, his connections ot the plays are more tenuous, and there is far less line-by-line connections between life and art. Instead, Nicholl chooses to present an atmosphere, a series of vignettes that were common in the day and therefore allow us to place ourselves in the house on Silver Street (or houses like it) and get a taste of time. An absorbing read for anyone wishing to know more about the world of Wm. Shakes.

See what others say:
The Guardian
The New York Times
The Washington Post

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