The Shakespeare Stealer

by Gary Blackwood

Start Free Trial

Themes and Characters

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 802

The main character in Blackwood's novel, Widge begins life in the country. During his first seven years, he bunks with a group of boys in an orphanage, and then he is apprenticed to Dr. Bright, a parson and physician who has devised a shorthand code that he calls charactery. He teaches it to Widge and sends him to a different church each Sunday to copy the minister's sermon. Widge then transcribes the charactery into regular English, and two weeks later Dr. Bright delivers that same sermon to his own congregation. When Widge discovers what Dr. Bright is doing, he asks if he can stop copying the sermons. He does not care if it is right or wrong, but he fears getting caught. Dr. Bright tells him that he is his boy and that he must continue to do as he is told. The notion that he is owned by someone else is drilled into Widge's mind.

When Widge is fourteen, his apprenticeship is sold to Simon Bass for ten pounds sterling. His new master's servant, Falconer, a terse man who wears his black hooded cloak as if it is a shield, takes Widge to his new home. Here Widge is instructed to go to London, attend a performance of William Shakespeare's Hamlet, copy down word for word the entire play, and transcribe it into English. Simon Bass intends for his own theater company to perform the stolen play.

The fearsome Falconer takes Widge to London. Although he attends the play, Widge gets so caught up in the story that he does not write much of the dialogue in the secret code. He does much better on his second viewing of the play, but his table-book with his charactery transcription of Hamlet is stolen. His only hope now to satisfy his master is to steal the play book.

Caught inside the theater, Widge lies and says that he is smitten with acting and wants to be a performer. The men in the theater company vote and decide that he can become an acting apprentice.

Sander is another apprentice at the theater. He shares his room with Widge at the house of Mr. Pope, one of the players with the Chamberlain's Men. Sander teaches Widge the various jobs of an apprentice, including sweeping the stage of soggy rushes and replacing them with fresh rushes, whitewashing the thatched roof of the theater, practicing sword fights, and memorizing lines.

Julian is another apprentice who harbors a secret just as damaging as Widge's. If the players learn that Widge is there to steal the play book, he will be banned from the theater. If the players learn Julian's true identity, he also will be banned. Nick is the oldest of the apprentices and, because of his deepening voice, graduates from the female roles of an apprentice to being a regular player and taking on male parts. His fondness for drink and carousing with actors from lesser acting companies begins his downward spiral. He shows up late for performances and in no physical state to go on stage. He is quarrelsome, vindictive, and responsible for unveiling Julian's secret. He is an easy touch for Falconer when the corrupt servant approaches him and hires him to steal the play book of Hamlet.

Widge has never thought of what is right and what is wrong. As an apprentice, he is expected to do whatever his master requires. Nor has he ever had a clear sense of home and belonging to a family. While with his first master, Widge slept in a corner of the apothecary. While...

(This entire section contains 802 words.)

See This Study Guide Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this study guide. You'll also get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

staying at a London inn with Falconer, Widge slept in the stable. Once he joins the players, he shares a room with Sander. Now Widge has someone to talk with, although he dare not confide his dark secret. For the first time in his life he has a friend, yet he is unsure what is required in a friendship.

As his responsibilities within the company increase, including acting the part of Ophelia in Hamlet when it is presented to Queen Elizabeth's court, Widge's sense of belonging to a family develops. He even feels loyalty to Nick, who has done nothing to endear himself to Widge, and he saves Nick's life by giving emergency first aid when he is injured in a sword fight. Widge naively believes that Nick would do the same for him, but he ultimately discovers that he must be a more discerning judge of character.

By relying on his innate sense of survival, Widge manages to avoid Falconer, who turns up time and again as he tracks the runaway apprentice. Relying on his instinctive code of honor and ethics, Widge wrestles with a whole new thought process and learns to respect others for who they are and learns to respect himself.