The Shakespeare Stealer by Gary Blackwood
Published in 2000 by Puffin Books
I’ve been having trouble finding a book I enjoy lately. I start a book and am disenchanted after just a few pages. Not a good sign. This was not the case with The Shakespeare Stealer (which I think would have sounded better as “The Shakespeare Thief,” but that’s just me).
This work of historical fiction tells the story of a young boy, Widge, who is an orphan living in Elizabethan England. He is apprenticed and taught how to write in shorthand by Dr. Bright, who developed modern shorthand. A stranger arrives one day to purchase Widge’s apprenticeship from Dr. Bright in order to, as the title states, steal from Shakespeare. Widge learns that his new master, Simon Bass, expects him to attend the Lord Chamberlain’s Men’s performance of The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, a new play by Shakespeare that has yet to be printed (therefore, not easily performed by other theatre troupes). Unable to record the entire play in one setting, Widge ends up joining the Lord Chamberlain’s Men to steal the play book. In the end, Widge must decide which is more important: stealing the play and obeying his master, or finding freedom, a family, and a home with the Lord Chamberlain’s Men.
I really like how this book shows some of the history of shorthand. Seeing as kids aren’t even taught cursive anymore, I’m sure they have no idea what shorthand is (and there are even examples of it!) Even though Widge’s naivety can be a little annoying, he is still a child, so that is to be expected. This book has several twists. Without giving anything away, let me just say that there is a plot twist that I figured would be used, but I was shocked at the reveal. I will definitely be rereading to see if I can spot the clues sooner.
So, I really enjoyed this book! It is a short read that kept my attention the whole time, even though it is meant for ages 10 to 14. I think 10 is a little young, not content-wise but for understanding who Shakespeare was and the time in which he lived. I don’t read a lot of historical fiction (unless it is Jane Austen related), but I was impressed with this work. I enjoyed seeing how Widge’s accent changes overtime as he goes from speaking in his Yorkshire accent and dialect to that of a Londoner. There is some language, which also makes me question the intended audience, but the words didn’t necessarily mean then what they do now, so I understand WHY Blackwood employs them (historical accuracy) but wish that he hadn’t (contemporary meaning and audience).
I’m really shocked that a movie version hasn’t been made, but I will certainly watch it if one is!