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Having reviewed over 1200 books on this blog, I have now written two myself. Motherdarling is a story about a search for a missing Will which reveals long-hidden family secrets. The Kids of God is a thriller set in a dystopia ruled by fascist paramilitaries. Both are available as paperbacks and on Kindle through Amazon. I live in Canterbury, England. I lived for more than thirty years in Bedford. Having retired from teaching; I became a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Liminality. I achieved my PhD in 2019. I am now properly retired. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Sunday, 24 April 2016

"The Lodger" by Charles Nicholl

In 1612, Shakespeare testified in the Jacobean small claims court about dealings involving the tenant of the house where he lodged in Cripplegate, London. This book explores his time there, the people he lived with and his neighbours.

I found it fascinating. Although he cannot tell us much about Shakespeare that isn't speculation, he has reconstructed the lives of those around him with the forensics skills of a master sleuth. This is a house where Shakespeare persuaded an apprentice to marry his master's daughter, although it is not clear why the lad needed persuading. The family are French Huguenot refugees and they possess an undercurrent of sexual promiscuity. Shakespeare's landlord owns a house in Brentford, at the time a notorious red light district, and has children by his maid while in between marriages; he is a stingy man who is required by law to leave a third of his property to his daughter but in his will instructs that his property should be divided into four 'thirds' of which she will get one (which is a quarter of course). Another party to the court case is George Wilkins who wrote a couple of plays and collaborated with Shakespeare on Pericles before returning to a low life of pimping and violence. And at this time Shakespeare wrote the wonderful Measure for Measure, a 'problem play' which deals with the closing of brothels in Vienna.

I really liked this book.

I love books that tell me interesting things:

  • The 'ell' is an old unit of length (45 inches) derived from the Anglo-Saxon word for arm: we still call the bend in the middle of the arm the 'elbow'.
  • Cripplegate is so called because it was low so you had to creep under it.
  • The upper floor of a Tudor house stuck out ('juttied') because taxes were based on the ground area; the upper floor was called the 'pentiss' or 'penthouse'
  • Pub called the 'Swan with Two Nicks' are common because vintners were entitled to keep swans but their swans were distinguished from the royal swans by having two nicks cut in their beaks.
  • Measure for Measure (A2S2: 137-8): "Go to your bosom,/Knock there, and ask thy heart what it doth know" echoes the motto of the essayist Michel de Montaigne: "What do I know?"; this predates the scepticism of Descartes; Montaigne's essays were designed to test ('assay') assumptions
  • Threadneedle Street was originally Three Needles Street echoing the logo of the Needlemakers' Company
  • St Olave's church is dedicated to Olaf, a Christian Norwegian king who fought in England against the pagan Danes
  • When an Elizabethan lost something he or she might go to a 'cunning man' such as Simon Forman who would cast horoscopes and suggest how it might be found or who had stolen it.
  • The word wench comes from Middle English wenchel meaning a child and had no bad meaning at first.
  • Till death us do part started off as 'till death us depart'
  • The plot of Measure for Measure mimics to some extent the situation in which Shakespeare presided at a hand-fasting ceremony (formal betrothal/ informal marriage) between his landlord's apprentice and his landlord's daughter; the couple later consummated the marriage and married in church but the court case is about the non-payment of dowry; Claudio in M4M gets into trouble for having sex with his betrothed before the actual marriage while the dowry is delayed whilst Angelo refuses to consummate his betrothal because of the non-payment of her dowry
  • All's Well That Ends Well which was also written about this time is also about a man being pressured into marriage and has the wonderful lines:
He wears his honour in a box unseen
That hugs his kicky-wicky here at home,
Spending his manly marrow in her arms
  • "In his later plays Shakespeare keeps returning to the theme of the ... daughter lost or banished" (p 269): 

There are some great lines too:
  • "the simmering randiness of the age"
April 2016; 278 pages

Books about Shakespeare reviewed in this blog include:


  1. Really useful one, compact yet packed with important points.Thank You very much for the effort to make the hard one looks so simple. Further, you can access this site to read Measure for Measure a Problem Play

  2. Thank you for your comment