________________ CM . . . . Volume XVI Number 7. . . .October 16, 2009


The Shakespeare Stealer.

Gary Blackwood.
Toronto, ON: Puffin Books / Penguin Books Canada), 1998.
216 pp., pbk., $9.99.
ISBN 0-14-130595-9.

Subject Headings:
Theatre-Juvenile fiction.
Orphans-Juvenile fiction.
Actors and actresses-Juvenile fiction.
Great Britain-History-Elizabeth, 1564-1616-Juvenile fiction.
Shakespeare, William, 1558-1603.

Grades 5-9 / Ages 10-14.

Review by Todd Kyle.

*** ½ / 4



This business of friendship was a curious thing, I thought, almost as difficult to learn as the business of acting. Sometimes you were expected to tell the truth, to express your thoughts and your feelings, and then other times what was wanted was a lie, a bit of disguise. I was still but a prentice in the art, but slowly and painfully I was learning.


In Elizabethan England, a Yorkshire orphan known only as Widge becomes an apprentice to a doctor who teaches him his art of "charactery," an early form of shorthand. At 14, he is bought by a new master who orders Widge to travel to London in order to steal the script to Shakespeare's play Hamlet by recording it in shorthand during a performance. Under the watchful eye of Bass' agent Falconer, Widge does record the play, but his notebook is stolen by a pickpocket. Looking for an opportunity to steal the script, he becomes an apprentice to Shakespeare's company. With Falconer still threatening him, Widge's attempts at the theft become more and more half-hearted while his deepening friendships and the lure of the stage become stronger and stronger, especially when he has to take over the roles of a fellow actor who is revealed to be a girl not allowed on the Elizabethan stage. When Falconer makes an attempt to steal the script through Nick, a disaffected actor, Widge is finally forced to reveal his secret to save the company's livelihood, and the chase is on.

     The Shakespeare Stealer is a fast-paced, appealing, and suspenseful historical adventure that will satisfy any reluctant yet skillful reader. The writing style is somewhat formal, affecting the narrative tone and vocabulary of the period, but remaining accessible and compelling. Dialogue is similarly dated, with Widge's Yorkshire accent and usages reproduced well. With Widge as narrator, character development is consistently from his limited yet observant point of view, evoking sympathy for his conflicting feelings and for others - even the villains - in a way that young people will understand intuitively. While not a perfect plot, the story retains forward motion and maintains interest very well.

     The portrait of England at the time, occasional glimpses of moody "Mr. Shakespeare," himself, and fascinating references to his plays and theatre, all will kindle an interest in the literature, but nothing stands out so much in this book than its classic adventure, sympathy for the downtrodden, and the excitement of fight and chase scenes. A great example of a book that's at once enlightening and appealing.

Highly Recommended.

Todd Kyle is a public library manager in Mississauga, ON, who has served on the jury of several children's literature awards in both official languages.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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ISSN 1201-9364
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