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The Shakespeare Stealer Hardcover – May 1, 1998

4.4 out of 5 stars 122 customer reviews
Book 1 of 3 in the Shakespeare Stealer Series

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

A myriad of anachronisms mar this predictable tale of a Yorkshire orphan. Widge, the 14-year-old narrator, is sent by a rival theater manager to steal the as-yet-unpublished Hamlet in 1601 London and ends up an apprenticing actor instead. Blackwood (Wild Timothy), a playwright and amateur actor himself, clearly knows Shakespeare, but is a bit cloudy on some details of the Elizabethan era. Widge mentions square city blocks, describes his dinner kept warm on the back of the stove and notes that a man wounded in a duel had recovered in a hospitalAthis in an age of unplanned cities, meals cooked over open fires and hospitals that were for terminally ill paupers. Blackwood excels, however, in the lively depictions of Elizabethan stagecraft and street life. Lonely outcast Widge is a sympathetic character, but his frequent shifts in voice from Yorkshire dialect to 20th-century American slang may be disconcerting to readers, and the villainy of Widge's nemesis seems all too familiar. Ages 9-12.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From School Library Journal

Grade 4-7AYoung Widge is an Elizabethan Oliver Twist with a talent for shorthand. Raised in an orphanage, he is apprenticed to an unprincipled clergyman who trains Widge to use a cryptic writing system that he's invented to pirate sermons from other rectors. Hired by a mysterious traveler, the boy is hauled off to London to attend performances of Hamlet in order to transcribe the script for another theater company. Naturally, all does not go smoothly, and in the course of trying to recover his stolen notebook, Widge goes to work at the Globe, eventually donning a dress and wig to play Ophelia before the queen. The true identity of the mysterious traveler provides a neat twist at the end. As in Wild Timothy (Atheneum, 1987; o.p.) and several of his other books, Blackwood puts a young boy in a sink-or-swim predicament in alien territory where he discovers his own strength. It's a formula with endless appeal. Not only must Widge survive physically, but he must also find his own ethical path having had no role models. When he is befriended by members of the acting company, he blossoms as he struggles with moral dilemmas that would never have dawned on him before. Tentative readers might be put off by Widge's Yorkshire dialect, but the words are explained in context. Wisely, much of the theater lingo is not explained and becomes just one more part of the vivid background through which the action moves. This is a fast-moving historical novel that introduces an important era with casual familiarity.ASally Margolis, Barton Public Library, VT
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Dutton Juvenile; 1st edition (May 1, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0525458638
  • ISBN-13: 978-0525458630
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 0.9 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (122 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,895,874 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Gary L. Blackwood sold his first story when he was nineteen, and has been writing and publishing stories, articles, plays, novels, and nonfiction books regularly ever since. His stage plays have won awards and been produced in university and regional theatre. Nonfiction subjects he's covered include biography, history, and paranormal phenomena. His juvenile novels, which include WILD TIMOTHY, THE DYING SUN, and THE SHAKESPEARE STEALER, are set in a wide range of times and places, from Elizabethan England to a parallel universe. Several have received special recognition and been translated into other languages. He lives near Tatamagouche, Nova Scotia.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

A Kid's Review on May 29, 2002
Format: Paperback
The Shakespeare Stealer is a book about a poor orphan boy, called Widge, living in Shakespearean England who can write a rare coded language in which symbols for each word can be written as the words are said. His forceful master, taking advantage of his ability, orders him to go to the Globe Theater to steal Shakespeare's Hamlet by writing down the lines of the play as the actors are acting them out. Though Widge, the poor, nameless orphan boy feels stealing the play is wrong, he enters the Globe Theater to copy down the play Hamlet. He is found by the players at the theater and they take him in and treat them as one of their own, while also being trained as an actor. While living with one of the men from the Lord Chamberlain's Men (the playing troupe) Widge, a country boy, adjusts to city life. However, Widge has not forgotten the threat his master made to him if he did not bring him a copy of Hamlet, and Widge knows that he has sent someone to London to find him and bring him back to the country. While living in London, Widge's accent is not the only thing that changes. For the first time in his life Widge can make decisions on his own. He learns about the meaning of words such as honesty, trust, loyalty, and friendship. He begins to realize that by working and living with the Lord Chamberlain's men, he is betraying them. The real reason he came to the theater was not to become a player, but to steal from Shakespeare himself, and consequently hurting the people who he is now closest to. Widge tries to decide whether he should betray his friends and copy the play or betray his master and stay in the Lord Chamberlain's Men for acting, not for the purpose of stealing a play, even though it means if his master finds him, Widge will receive severe punishment.Read more ›
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Format: Paperback
Children's works of historical fiction often suffer from a common malady. If the writer is not completely comfortable with the time period they're writing about, they'll hang everything on a famous person and leave it at that. When I saw that this book was entitled, "The Shakespeare Stealer", I was sure that it would be a book in which a young boy befriended the great William Shakespeare and had an impact on history, yadda yadda yadda. But Gary Blackwood's not your everyday run-of-the-mill writer. There's a truly interesting story at the heart of this tale and a truly talented hand behind the writing. Blackwood doesn't just place his book in the past. He authenticates it by drawing you back into a fully realized historical moment in time. The result is a whole lot of fun and a book that I'll be shoving into the hands of any kid forced to read something realisitic for a book report.

Widge received his odd name when the mistress of an orphanage took one look at him as a babe and said, "Och, the poor little pigwidgeon" (thereby surprising anybody who thought that J.K. Rowling had made up the name). Since birth the boy has been either an orphan or a lowly apprentice. He was put under the thumb of one Dr. Bright when he was seven, and through this master he learned a form of shorthand that no one else in the world knew. Such a talent is bound to attract interest, however, and at the age of fourteen Widge is bought by a man who needs the boy's talents professionally. Sent to London, Widge is told to watch a performance of Hamlet and take down every word. A series of small mishaps land him not in the audience, however, but as a member of the acting troupe.
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Format: Paperback
This is a book I picked up to read to my sons prior to a trip to London, in the hopes of giving them a sense of, not only the history of London, but of one of the world's greatest playwrites. I could not have picked a better series. The book is extremly well-written, very much in the feel of a Robert Louis Stevenson adventure, both in tone and language. It is clear that Blackwood did a fair amount of research into the life and times of Shakespeare. Although the bard is by no means a central character in this first book of the series, he is a tangential figure. And while there is a great deal of adventure and suspense within this novel, with each of the short chapters ending with a mild cliff-hanger, the beauty of the book comes in the main character's -- Widge's -- search for belonging and community. By book's end, he finds it within the theatre, Shakespeare's Globe. The book succeeds on many levels, not the least of which is giving the reader a good sense of what a player's life was like at the beginning of the 17th century. While I, as an adult reader, thoroughly enjoyed how tightly written this novel was, it should be pointed out that my enjoyment spread to re-reading a couple of Shakespeare's plays, as well as some recently-issued biographies of the Bard. Well done, Blackwood.
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Format: Paperback
This review contains spoilers.

"The Shakespeare Stealer" is an exciting, well-researched YA adventure story, focusing on Widge, a fourteen-year-old orphan in Elizabethan England. Through a series of twists, he winds up as an apprentice in the Lord Chamberlain's Company. His objective isn't to learn to be an actor, though - at least not at first. His mission is to steal William Shakespeare's new play, "Hamlet," for his master. The story includes plenty of duels, chases, tests of loyalty, moments of friendship, and fine period details.

As well written and enjoyable as the story is, I feel uncomfortable giving it more than three stars, due to the villain, Simon Bass/Falconer. The only Jewish character in the story is the villain. Was this necessary? Was it necessary for him to be a thief and a murderer, with greed as his primary motive? Considering Gary Blackwood does not examine his characters' or the period's attitude toward Jews (the only explanation he offers is Rodrigo Lopez's supposed involvement in a plot to poison Queen Elizabeth) I would say no. And he could have; he takes the time to examine and critique the barring of women from the stage. I don't see any evidence of malice, just clumsy, insensitive treatment on the part of the author.
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