In 1909, sifting through bundles of unindexed papers in the Public Record Office, an American scholar called Charles William Wallace came across the twenty-six depositions that make up the Belott–Mountjoy case. These concern a man who in 1612 was prosecuting his father-in-law for an unpaid dowry in the Jacobean equivalent of a small claims court. Nothing very startling or even interesting, but then Wallace’s eye was caught by the name of a principal witness called ‘one Mr Shakespeare that laye in the house’. Wallace realised instantly that he had made the find of his life.
In Elizabethan and Jacobean usage, to ‘lie’ in a house meant to be staying there, and in this context it was clear that William Shakespeare must have been the Mountjoys’ lodger at the time when their daughter was married off to their sometime apprentice Stephen Belott. What’s more, this presumably