Saturday, September 26, 2009

Books: The Shakespeare Stealer

The Shakespeare Stealer
by Gary Blackwood
216 pages
Copyright 1998

In The Shakespeare Stealer, author Gary Blackwood gives us Widge, an orphaned boy, as hero.

Widge has had a tough life, growing up in the orphanage. He hopes things will be better when Dr. Bright takes him away. Dr. Bright has invented a new type of writing called charactery (shorthand) and he urges Widge to learn it. It takes the boy a long time to get it down, but he does.

Dr. Bright, who is also a minister, sends Widge to neighboring churches on Sunday to take down the serms, which Bright then steals. Widge has no misgivings about this; he knows it is a theft but he is doing what he is told.

One night a shadowy figure arrives and asks Dr. Bright about his charactery. When Dr. Bright tells him that Widge is the only person who has actually learned to use it, the man, called Falconer, gives Bright 10 pounds in exchange for the boy.

Widge learns later that he is now owned by Mr. Bass. Mr. Bass is a thespian, and he wants Widge to go to London with Falconer and steal Shakespeare's Hamlet.

Copyright laws are not in place at this time, and so Shakespeare has to keep his plays in his own playhouse. Once someone else gets them, his profits decline.

Widge attempts to get the play in one hearing but cannot. He tells Falconer he needs to hear the play a second time. Then Widge loses his writing tablet. He is terrified of Falconer, but circumstances and a quick wit give him an out. He finds himself adopted by the play troupe and he becomes one of them.

This is an intriguing story. The narrative voice is very good, and while some of the details of life in the 1500s were a little sketchy, they were easily forgiven. It is a young adult book, after all.

A very good historical novel for anyone of any age.

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