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The Shakespeare Stealer

Style: Good

Attitude: Positive

This review was contributed by Portico Books

In Brief: A fast-moving historical novel that introduces you to life in 16th century London among the actors of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. It depicts friendship, loyalty and honesty in a positive way.

Author: Garry Blackwood

Publisher: Puffin

Published in: 1998

Age Range: Pre Teens

Period: 16th C

Setting: Elizabethan London

Genres:  AdventureHistorical


Characters:

  • Widge is a 14-year-old orphan who is hired by the mysterious Simon Bass to write down the whole of Shakespeare’s Hamlet in shorthand. When he is unwittingly hired by The Globe Theatre, he becomes friends with the players, and although he is fearful of his master, he is reluctant to steal the play.
  • Sander is an actor at the Globe who is one of the first to become friends with Widge.
  • Julian is another actor and friend of Widge who later turns out to be a courageous girl dressing as a boy, since girls were not allowed to act on stage.
  • Falconer is the evil master intent upon stealing Shakespeare’s play for his own profit. It is later discovered that he is Simon Bass in disguise.

Synopsis:

Widge is a poor orphan who has the rare ability to write a unique coded shorthand. He is apprenticed to Simon Bass who orders him to write down Shakespeare’s Hamlet as it is being performed. Widge is unable to get it all in the first sitting, and when he is found sneaking around backstage, the players unwittingly hire him and train him as an assistant actor. Widge becomes friends with the players and is reluctant to steal the play, all the time fearful that his master will come after him. When another player betrays the group and steals the only written copy of the play to give to Falconer, Widge and an older actor set out to find them. The matter is resolved in a sword fight between the older actor and Falconer, and Widge remains with his new friends.

Notes:

While it’s not a particularly complex story, the characters are deep enough to exhibit virtue or vice, and some even move between one and the other. We are also able to learn a little of the circumstances of life in 16th century England, and are given an introductory impression of life as an actor in Shakespeare’s plays.

Historical fiction is interesting for its ability to immerse the reader in the life and times of famous people and events. In this book we meet Shakespeare in a fairly realistic, if simple, context, quite different to the “great English literature” context in which students learn about him at school. Shakespeare’s plays feel a little closer to real life when acted by these players, whose whole life was the theatre and only real family their fellow actors. Overall, it is a relatively exciting and informative read.

Themes:

  • Acting / Theatre
  • Friendship

Two weeks seemed to me ample time to prepare, but the company behaved as though Judgment Day were almost upon them and they must put not only their parts but their entire lives in order. Our property men spent most of their day at the office of the queen’s master of revels, preparing elaborate scenery for the great event, so the task of seeing to the properties for the regular performances fell to us prentices. It was not unusual in those next weeks for a player to cry “Behold!” and open the curtains of the rear alcove to reveal two frantic prentices struggling with some unwieldy piece of scenery or furniture…

The principal players, meantime, rehearsed Hamlet endlessly, employing a slightly different version each day, as Mr Shakespeare deleted or added passages to suit the fancy of the master of revels.

Sunday 23rd September 2007