A historical novel set at the Golden Theatre during Shakespeare’s reign there!
I’ve never had a proper name – never known me mum or dad, neither. The only name I’ve had in this life was called me at the orphanage – Widge. It’s the name I’ve been known by for all me fourteen years, and it tells a truthsome tale – that there are none who know and love me.
Dr. Bright took me in when I was a puny lad of seven. He seemed favorably disposed towards me and even taught me to read and write a special code of shorthand. I soon kenned for what purpose he had taught me this skill – it was only that I might aid him in stealing the works of others. But what cared I for the right or wrong of it? If I did not copy, I was not fed. So I copied.
Then, in my fourteenth year, a man came. He was altogether fierce, but he offered my master ten pounds for me and he – having no special affection for me – gladly relinquished me for so large a sum. I soon learned that my new master, Simon Black, wanted me for a particular purpose. He ran an acting company and he wanted me to attend the premieres of William Shakespeare’s new plays and take them down word for word, that way his troupe of players might stay abreast of the hottest London plays. I saw no reason to refuse, and thus it was that I was conducted to London and set in the performance of Hamlet…
But as I meet the players and Mister Shakespeare himself, I begin to wonder – is what I’m doing right?
I picked this book up in 2012, recognizing it from its popularity on Goodreads. I decided I would read it while snobbishly agreeing with myself that I probably wouldn’t like it because, after all, it was liked by the masses! And my tastes were obviously far superior to that of the masses! I ended up loving it. What a good lesson for my snobbish little nose.
In The Shakespeare Stealer, Gary Blackwood has created an utterly unique story. I’ve read lots of books in which some young character has a fleeting and highly forced encounter with a historical figure. But none of them have been so riveting, so real as The Shakespeare Stealer. TSS fully immerses its readers into not only Shakespeare’s historical and geographical setting, but also the breadth and majesty of Shakespeare’s play Hamlet. Because through a course of events, Widge joins Shakespeare’s troupe of actors and begins to act in the play himself!
And then there’s another thing – Widge’s progression as a character. When we first meet Widge, he has been tossed from an orphanage into the hands of an unscrupulous master. He has known no love or familial connection and has never been taught even the most basic concepts of right and wrong. He does what is profitable for himself and cares little as to whether his actions are good or bad. It is at this juncture that he is sent to London to steal Hamlet.
First, Widge is entranced with the majesty of the play – the beauty of the words, and the breathtaking excitement of the duels. After he loses his notebook in the theatre, his only choice is to join the company while he tries to recover it. The other players swarm around him, offering him their friendship and a sense of belonging. At first, Widge doesn’t know how to respond to the goodwill being offered him – he is accustomed to being treated only with slurs and kicks. But he grows into not only his role as an extra, but also his role as a friend. At this point, as he witnesses all of the hard work that goes on to make a play successful and the fierce loyalties amongst the players, he begins to question himself. Is it right to take another man’s work without paying for it? Am I justified in stealing a play just because I am afraid of what might happen to me if I don’t? These people have offered me there friendship – what do I owe to them based on the relationships we have established?
I don’t want to give away the story, but I’ll just say that I was pleased with the moral progression that Widge demonstrated. : )
In Shakespeare’s time, it was considered shameful for a woman to play on the stage, so boys played the part of women, wearing dresses and wigs and speaking in a high voice. Towards the end of the story we learn that one of the boys who plays women’s parts is actually a girl who disguised herself as a boy to get into the troupe so that she could pretend to be a woman! #confusing
Widge says on page 46 that he’s heard of a sport called “bear-baiting”. He briefly describes it and concludes that “it did not sound very sporting to me.” [pg. 46] In one of the last chapters, two men duel and one of them is killed.
In one brief conversation, the apprentices puzzle over why Shakespeare is so pensive. One boy suggests that he is brooding over a thwarted love affair, to which another of the boys indignantly responds that Shakespeare is already married.
Omens are mentioned – Widge crosses himself on one occasion. Also, the ghost of Hamlet’s father makes an appearance, but everyone knows it’s an actor dressed up as a ghost.
As far as language goes, the favorite exclamations by far are ‘Gog’s bread’ and ‘Gog’s blood’, although God’s name is used twice and ‘d***’ once. Also, ‘Holy Mother’ and ‘Mother Mary’ are used once or twice as exclamations. One man insults another by calling him a ‘college a**’ which doesn’t have the same connotations of the American use of the word, but is still worth mentioning.
Conclusion. Fine – superb. I loved this story and I think that lovers of classic literature will enjoy it as well.
Review © 2014 Laura Verret