The Lodger

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 23 November, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 23 November, 2008, 12:00am

by Charles Nicholl Penguin, HK$153

The first chapter of The Lodger will turn readers off or pique their curiosity. In The Deposition Charles Nicholl outlines the flimsy basis for his book, which seeks to expound on William Shakespeare by working from a legal case in which he was a witness. Other historians have attempted to come to terms with the elusive bard but few with the creativity and tenacity of Nicholl, who follows the paper trail starting with a suit about an unpaid dowry to the house on the now-disappeared Silver Street, where Shakespeare was a tenant from 1603 to 1605. The playwright - who wrote Measure for Measure, All's Well That Ends Well, Timon of Athens and King Lear during the time in question - had helped to arrange the marriage that ended in the suit between his landlord Christopher Mountjoy and another Frenchman, Stephen Belott. Both made women's headdresses for a living. Through Nicholl's investigation readers hear Shakespeare's voice and observe London as he might have experienced it. Intriguing links are made that point to possible influences on Shakespeare's work: a Cordelia, for instance, was born near the Mountjoy house at about the time Shakespeare wrote King Lear.