This transcript is the sole surviving example of Shakespeare’s speech recorded in his lifetime. It reveals details of his life in an immigrant household in east London, and his role in arranging the marriage between Mary Mountjoy, daughter of Shakespeare’s landlord, and her suitor Stephen Belott.
Belott alleged that in 1604 he had been promised a substantial marriage portion (dowry) upon his marriage to Mary Mountjoy. When his father-in-law failed to pay, Belott sued. In 1612 Shakespeare was called as a witness in the case, as he had been lodging with the Mountjoys at the time of the marriage.
Shakespeare’s evidence was given in response to questions devised by Bellot’s lawyer, and his answers are very general. The abbreviated form of his signature in the bottom right hand corner is the earliest of his surviving signatures.
Measure for Measure, written while Shakespeare lived with the Mountjoys, mirrors some of the elements of the case. The play includes two ‘hand-fastings’ of the kind Shakespeare witnessed between Stephen Belott and Mary Mountjoy before their wedding.
(The National Archives: REQ 4/1/4/1 folio 1A)