The Shakespeare Stealer

by Gary Blackwood

Start Free Trial

What are the main themes and plot of The Shakespeare Stealer?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Gary Blackwood’s 1998 historical fiction novel The Shakespeare Stealer presents the narrative of an orphan named Widge whose master, Bass, directs him to steal Hamlet from Shakespeare’s company of actors The Lord Chamberlain’s Men. Two major themes are family and thievery.

As an orphan, Widge is without family. He has gotten through life by learning how to write in shorthand which a previous master taught him to scribe sermons as they were being orated. This skill leads Bass to force Widge to steal Hamlet by scribing it as it is performed. Bass is not a father figure to Widge—instead, he is a boss or master. When Widge eventually poses as an aspirating actor and joins the company, he loves the other actors and finally feels like he has a family, which causes significant tension as both Widge and the reader know his directive.

Second, the theme of thievery is present, as that is the skill Widge is seasoned in and what drives the plot forward. Widge becomes so enamored with the performance that he forgets to transcribe sections and must go back to see a subsequent performance. Before his transcription is complete, a pickpocket steals his notes, which makes Widge join the company to try to steal an actual copy of the play. So, while stealing has helped Widge advance through life, a random act of thievery actually leads to his finding a true family dynamic.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Widge, an orphan, is recruited to steal Shakesphere's Hamlet from the man himself and his theater company. Widge isn't keen to do so but believes that he has to because of his position in life. His master is known to be violent and unforgiving.

Widge is chosen because he's able to write in a kind of shorthand; this enables him to write down the play as its being performed time after time for practice. He does so, but the play is stolen in a random act of thievery. He decides that he'll steal the official script of the play to keep himself alive and safe. His relationships with the other people working with the theater company make him not want to do so, however. He ultimately chooses to save the play and is allowed to stay on as an apprentice.

One major theme in the play is choosing your own family. Widge has never really belonged to a family; instead, he's been apprenticed and made to work for his life even as a child. When he joins Shakespeare's company, however, he is appreciated for who he is. For the first time, Widge is able to choose who he wants to be connected to and sees the strength of real loyalty. He recognizes that he can't only act in his own self-interest or rely on himself alone when there are other people he cares about.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In Gary Blackwood's The Shakespeare Stealer, the reader meets the narrator, Widge, who is an orphan born in 1587 during the era of Queen Elizabeth. Widge is adopted by Dr. Timothy Bright at the age of seven to become an apprentice. His first job is to care for the potion that is kept over the burning pitch. However, he is also tasked to learn Latin, English, and Dr. Bright's own language invention called Charactery,which is "an art of short, swift, and secret writing by the which one may transcribe the spoken word as rapidly as it issues from the tongue." This type of shorthand is much like today's stenography.

Widge eventually discovers that Dr. Bright is using his writing ability to steal sermons. He ponders the question of right and wrong, a theme in this work. Widge believes that right is what helps him survive and wrong is what will hurt him. However, when he asks Bright to relieve him of his duty to copy sermons for fear of getting caught, Bright lets him know he is only a lowly apprentice: he is Bright's property and must do as he is told.

Widge, at fourteen, winds up with a new master, Simon Bass. He is tasked to "steal Shakespeare's play Hamlet . . . or else." This leads into the theme of loyalty vs. betrayal,as Widge is accepted into the group of actors at The Globe Theater and must decide whether to betray his new family and steal the play or become loyal to the group. This also relates to ethics and Widge's learning the true meaning of right and wrong.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Widge is an orphan who is sent by his master to write down every word of Shakespeare's latest play that is being performed. He does so, but a pickpocket steals the copy from Widge. Widge then decides to steal a copy of the play and joins the acting group to get it. He's treated so well by the people in the acting troupe that he realizes he must decide to stand by his new friends or betray them.

Basically, the main theme is learning to respect others and yourself.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to 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
Approved by eNotes Editorial