by MICHAEL BOWEN & r & & r & The Lodger Shakespeare & r & by Charles Nicholl & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & C & lt;/span & harles Nicholl's earlier book, The Reckoning, about the spy-murder of Christopher Marlowe, combined historical research with the conventions of the detective novel to tell a compelling story. Essentially, Nicholl established that Marlowe hadn't been killed in an Elizabethan bar fight but was murdered because he was an international spy who'd gotten trapped between political factions.

The Lodger Shakespeare tries to be the same kind of book, but it's not as compelling. As his starting point, Nicholl takes the fact that in 1604, Shakespeare rented a room in London from a family of French & eacute;migr & eacute;s whose livelihood involved making elaborate women's headdresses. Years later, a deposition revealed just how involved the playwright had become in the lives of the Mountjoys: The mother had urged Shakespeare to intervene in the daughter's betrothal. The father had refused to pay the wedding dowry; a lawsuit had ensued.

Much as James Shapiro does in A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare: 1599, Nicholl meticulously tracks down people whom the playwright knew, then draws parallels to the plays. Shakespeare had chosen to lodge with foreigners in a part of London not convenient to the playhouses; we don't know why, but we do know that Sir Thomas More (for which Shakespeare wrote a scene) attacks anti-immigrant hysteria. Brothels are prominent in Pericles because Shakespeare collaborated on that play with a hack writer who was also a pimp. The dowry in King Lear; the preoccupation with the technicalities of Elizabethan betrothals in All's Well That Ends Well and Measure for Measure; the several late plays that examine father-daughter relationships -- all of these may well have emerged from the years Shakespeare lived with the squabbling Mountjoys, Nicholl suggests.

But only suggests. Nicholl conjectures a great deal about what might have happened; while he uncovers new connections, conclusive proofs simply aren't available. The Lodger doesn't have the suspense or high stakes of the story of Marlowe's murder. About a minor episode in Shakespeare's life, we're left with some intriguing maybes.

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