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.