The Shakespeare Stealer by Gary Blackwood (1998) did not sit long idle before I devoured the words. But those who know me well would know it would not be one to gather dust given my propensity and love for life of William Shakespeare’s late 1500s. It was also not so overpowering and involved an investment given the things happening in my life right now. True, this book by American children’s author, Gary Blackwood, is a young adult chap book – but the subject is one that calls to me in any form. It was an easy read and I’m assuming it to be geared toward the junior high reading crowd. The author did not simplify it by changing language or situation. Instead, he peppered it with the flavor of the time using words and actions. He uses the characters to explain uncertainties and one comes to identify meaning by reading through the work and understanding their relation to the roles of the time period.
Widge, is a young teen orphan who comes to the theatre under command of his current master. He is supposed to steal the play Hamlet by transcribing it in its entirety using a specialized shorthand he masters over his young years. His initial attempt is incomplete because he gets caught up in the roles rather than concentrating on the words. His next attempt is better but the notebook is stolen and under fear of reprisal he becomes engulfed in the world of the theatre. At first, it is a way to escape punishment from his master and fulfill his duty. He knows what he’s doing is a deception but this was common at the time with competing theatre troupes stealing plays and revisiting them on their own stage. The coveted Shakespearean works were well guarded but not immune to pilfering. Widge’s attempt to comply leaves him loving the theatre and he even becomes a player while on ever alert for his mysterious, fearful pursuer, Falconer. His growth is in discovering loyalty and friendship. The story is well written and follows the guidelines for historical writing by not overdoing the language. A few words in dialect by the main character add to his charm, setting him apart from his London proper counterparts.
According to my research of the time period, the work rings true to what I have encountered with only one blaring inconsistency ringing in my head. William Shakespeare’s son is said to have died from an accidental drowning in 1596 – the author, using a brief dialogue between players, reveals that William is possibly disheartened and distracted by the death of his son by disease. The book is set in 1587 which would only be two years after the twins’ birth. As with all work based on such remote times, it is impossible to get things exactly right – who really knows? In our creation of fiction we are given that liberty to stretch the truth somewhat as long as it is loosely based on our researched conception of it. I am in the process of writing a novel involving this time period and I would expect there may be variations that might draw the comment and insight from others working in the same genre and style. We have our imagination and creativity –the rest is history.
This wonderful book was found on the local library discard rack – it makes me wonder why.