The Shakespeare Stealer

by Gary Blackwood

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Settings in Gary Blackwood's novel The Shakespeare Stealer


In The Shakespeare Stealer, key settings include London, where much of the action takes place, particularly the Globe Theatre, which is central to the plot. Other important locations are the countryside manor of Widge's master and various streets and inns of Elizabethan England, which provide a detailed backdrop for the protagonist's journey.

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What are the three settings in The Shakespeare Stealer?

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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What settings are named in Gary Blackwood's novel The Shakespeare Stealer?

Other than Shakespeare's theater, The Globe, Gary Blackwood's novel The Shakespeare Stealer certainly does refer to many locations in England. Another location spoken of in the very first chapter is the orphanage in which the main character Widge is raised until taken as an apprentice by Dr. Bright. We don't know of the exact location of the orphanage, though we do know that Dr. Bright lives in the hamlet of Berwick. We are also told that after Dr. Bright finished his education at Cambridge and began practicing in London, he moved up north to Yorkshire. Yorkshire is a large county in England, only a few smaller counties away from the Scotland border, farther up north. Also, there is a town called Berwick-upon-Tweed, Tweed being the name of a river, located farther up north than Yorkshire, in the Northumberland county right next to Scotland. Since Dr. Bright would not have traveled too far to an orphanage to find an apprentice, we can assume that the hamlet of Berwick is named after Berwick-upon-Tweed and also located in Yorkshire; hence, we can also assume that Widge's orphanage is in Yorkshire. So, we can say that another location Blackwood refers to in the novel is the county of Yorkshire.

Another location mentioned is Leicester, the city that Simon Bass brings Widge to once Bass purchases Widge from Dr. Bright as an apprentice. Leicester is a well-developed city in the county of Leicestershire, about four counties north of Greater London County. Leicester is also in an area called the Midlands, which Bass mentions when Widge first meets him, explaining that he manages a company of actors who "are not nearly so successful as the Lord Chamberlain's or the Admiral's Men, but they do a respectable business here in the Midlands" (p. 32). In the Middle Ages, the Midlands used to refer to a group of counties all under the same government administration. While the Midlands are no longer under the same administration, the Midlands refers to the counties of Derbyshire, Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, Leicestershire, Northamptonshire, Oxfordshire, Rutland, Staffordshire, Shropshire, Warwickshire, and the West Midlands. The county of Leicestershire is specifically located in the East Midlands. Hence, we can say that two other locations mentioned in the book are Leicester and the Midlands.

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