Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

The Shakespeare Stealer

The Shakespeare Stealer

Gary L. Blackwood
For ages 12 and up
Unabridged audiobook (Cassette)
Performed/read by: Ron Keith
Recorded Books, 2001   ISBN: 0788747339

Widge has had a tough life so far. After years in an orphanage he is apprenticed to a rector who needs someone to help him work on the shorthand that he’s developed. Widge learns the shorthand and becomes proficient in it. In fact he  becomes so good at using the shorthand that he is bought from the rector for price of ten pounds and is taken away by a tall, dark, frightening bearded man who calls himself Falconer.

After a long journey Widge gets to meet his new master, a Mr. Bass. From this man Widge learns that he has been bought to provide a very important service. Mr. Bass wants Widge to go to see William Shakespeare’s new play in London. More importantly he wants Widge to write down the entire play as it is being performed without any of the Chamberlain’s Men, as Shakespeare’s group is called, knowing what he is doing. In short Mr. Bass wants Widge to steal Shakespeare’s play.

The task should be an easy one but then things start to get complicated. First Widge gets so involved in the wonderful play that he ends up leaving out many of the speeches made by the actors. He goes back to listen to the play again and this time he gets caught and has to run away as fast as he can. Unfortunately Widge has his pockets picked and his precious notebook with his notations in it is lost. Now what is he going to do? Widge knows that Falconer will be most displeased with him unless he recopies the play or steals the actual playbook.

As luck would have it Widge meets some of the theatre folk and before he quite knows what is happening he is taken in by them and given a job. Perhaps now he can steal the playbook after all. The problem is that Widge is finding it harder and harder to accept the idea of betraying the theatre people. They are so kind to him, and they make him feel as if he is one of them, that he has real friends for the first time in his life.

This superbly written story is gripping, exciting, and it gives one a remarkably lifelike picture of what Elizabethan England was like in general and what theatre life was like in particular. Widge’s dilemma of being caught between the demands of his master and the affection that he has for his new “family” is poignant and easily understandable. We cannot help hoping that Widge will be released from his dangerous and illegal task so that he can at last have a safe and happy life.

Ron Keith’s rich and dramatic narration of this title is a joy to listen to. Listeners will immediately feel that they are a part of Widge’s fascinating world.

This is the first book in a series of stories about Widge and his life in the theatre.