Shakespeare in Court: The case of Christopher Mountjoy Versus Stephen Bellott

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From Halleck’s New English Literature by Reuben Post Halleck. New York: American Book Company, 1913. In the first decade of the twentieth century, Professor C. W. Wallace discovered in the London Record Office a romantic story in which Shakespeare was an important figure. This story opens in the year 1598 in the London house of a French Huguenot, Christopher Mountjoy, wig-maker, with whom Shakespeare lived. Mountjoy took as apprentice for six years, Stephen Bellott, a young Frenchman. Beside him worked Mary Mountjoy, the proprietor’s only daughter, who looked with favor upon the young apprentice. At the end of his apprenticeship Stephen left without proposing marriage to Mary; but on his return Mrs. Mountjoy asked Shakespeare to make a match between Stephen and Mary, a task in which he was successful. Seven and a half years later Shakespeare was called into court to testify to all the facts leading to the marriage. After a family quarrel, Mr. Mountjoy declared that he would never leave Stephen and Mary a groat, and the son-in-law brought suit for a dowry. Shakespeare’s testimony shows that he remembered Mrs. Mountjoy’s commission and the part that he played in mating the pair, but he forgot the amount of the dowry and when it was to be paid. The puzzled court turned the matter over for settlement to the French church in London, but it is not known what decision was reached. The documents in the case show that Shakespeare was on familiar terms with tradesmen, that they thought well of him, that he was willing to undertake to try to make two people happy, and that he lived in the Mountjoy house at the corner of Silver and Monkwell streets. During the period of Stephen’s apprenticeship (1598-1604), Shakespeare wrote some of his greatest plays, such as Hamlet and Othello. From its connection with Shakespeare, this is the most important corner in London for literary associations. Wallace also found documents showing that Shakespeare owned at the time of his death a one-seventh interest in the Blackfriars Theater (p. 167) and a one-fourteenth interest in the Globe. The hitherto unknown fact that he continued to hold to the end of his life these important interests, requiring such skilled supervision, makes more doubtful the former assumption that he spent the last years of his life entirely at Stratford.

How to cite this article: Halleck, Reuben Post. Halleck’s New English Literature. New York: American Book Company, 1913. Shakespeare Online. 20 Feb. 2011. (date when you accessed the information) < http://www.shakespeare-online.com/theatre/newdocumentsshk.html >.