the guardian Sat 14 March 2009
Despite the best endeavours of an army of biographers, Shakespeare the man remains a mystery. What little we know about his private life, his family, his property and that famous bequest of the second-best bed to his wife comes from the usual official documents. This latest attempt to put flesh on the Bard's bones was inspired by a deposition in the 1611 equivalent of a small claims court, signed by a Mr Shakespeare of Silver Street. He wasn't exactly a key witness in this domestic dispute, but he provided Nicholl with the key to a whole new world of speculation. Why, in 1604, at the peak of his fame, was Shakespeare living as a paying guest with a Huguenot family in Cripplegate? He was rich and famous, with substantial properties in Stratford. Cripplegate was a fairish schlepp across town to the river and thence a ferry to the Globe, where his latest play might be on. The Mountjoys' house/atelier/shop on the corner of Silver Street and Muddle Lane wasn't grand. Mountjoy made fancy headdresses for women and had other lodgers besides WS. Was it a bolthole where he could write undisturbed? And was Cordelia so named after the embroiderer's baby down the road? Who knows, who cares? Personally, I like the fact that it's his plays we remember, not whether he beat his wife or had syphilis. Nicholl's book offers nothing new about Shakespeare, but it's wonderfully entertaining about his world.