The Shakespeare Stealer

by Gary Blackwood
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What are the three settings in The Shakespeare Stealer?  

Three settings, six or seven characters. Widge was born in Leicester, England. He was "an orphan," and the setting at birth was his mother's rented room in a poor section of Leicester called Jewry Wall. (p. 11) He had a sister named Roseanna who died very young, probably when she was a toddler. His parents were Henry Widge and Ellen Widge who married when they were both 17 years old. Their third child, Roseanna, died before her second birthday. The setting at the time of her death is not mentioned, but it could have been the same as for Widge's birth--the small, dark rented room in Leicester called Jewry Wall. (p.

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If we skip the opening setting of Mistress MacGregor's orphanage, then the three settings of The Shakespeare Stealer are the rectory in "the nearby hamlet of Berwick"; the home of Mrs. and Dr. Timothy Bright, a medical practitioner who had studied at Cambridge and who was also the rector of Berwick;...

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If we skip the opening setting of Mistress MacGregor's orphanage, then the three settings of The Shakespeare Stealer are the rectory in "the nearby hamlet of Berwick"; the home of Mrs. and Dr. Timothy Bright, a medical practitioner who had studied at Cambridge and who was also the rector of Berwick; Simon Bass's home in Leicester; and the city on the Thames, London City, home of the Globe Theatre.

Widge's stay at the orphanage was dreary. It is not described except to say that the "six or seven" children staying there dined on "barley mush and wild beans," unless times were good and charitably given food was there to fill them up.

When Widge's life came upon a seven-year "grand climateric" [sic], he left behind the dreary orphanage, and the setting changed to the rectory in the hamlet of Berwick, mostly the apothecary in the rectory in Berwick. Dr. Bright was a medical doctor and as such always had "some potion simmering over a pot of burning pitch." The apothecary was clean and neat and "reasonably warm" because of the burning pitch.

A "grand climateric," actually spelled "climacteric," is said to be a life cycle occurring at seven-year intervals, as in years 7, 14, 21, 28, 35, etc. Just when Widge had started to get anxious for himself, as he had been caught in Leeds copying sermons for Bright, and considering running away to Guiana, another "grand climateric" changed the setting again.

The stranger, later known as Falconer, took Widge to the setting of the home of Simon Bass in Leicester. Riding behind Falconer on his horse, from a narrow lane they approached a "substantial house surrounded by a high hedge." In the back was a stable almost as grand as the house. Inside the kitchen, Widge was turned over to kitchen maids who showed him his room in the garret. When he was introduced to Simon Bass, he entered a room so foreign it might have been "another land." It had soft carpet, paneled walls hung with pictures, walls full of books and a writing desk.

Widge left Leicester in the company of Falconer, his safe-passage escort and his minder, to head to the setting of London, with the George, the Globe and Mr. Pope's house. They approached London--a sea of red tile roofs behind the great city walls, clustered up to the river's edge--on Aldersgate Street and entered through Aldersgate. London was (and is) the great city on the River Thames. Ditches ran down the streets for sewage. The thousand buildings on the hill "nudge" the buildings at the river's edge nearly into the water.

They took lodgings at Saint George's Inn, or "the George near the Four Corners." It had an enormous inn room holding massive wooden tables. On the other side of the Thames, polluted with "garbage," lay the Globe Theatre, thirty feet high, three times as wide, eight-sided, built on swampy land drained by ditches crossed on foot bridges. Above the archway was a carving of Atlas supporting the globe, and below was the motto in Latin, "Totus mundus agit histrionem," meaning "All the world's a stage."

Falconer shook his head at [Widge's] ignorance. "All the world's a stage. A line from As You Like It."

Widge was sent by Mr. Heminges to live with Mr. Pope, who had the care of other orphans and "prentices," including Alexander Cooke--or just Sander--with whom Widge would share a "dormer room" [a garret room with a dormer style window]. Mr. Pope and Goodwife Willingson the housekeeper shared the care of these boys in Mr. Pope's house.

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