The Shakespeare Stealer

by Gary Blackwood

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What is the summary of chapters 18-20 in The Shakespeare Stealer?

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In chapters 18-20 of "The Shakespeare Stealer," Widge accidentally gets locked in a prop room while searching for a script, and fabricates a story about escaping his old master when questioned about his absence. Touched by the concern shown by Mr. Pope, Widge begins to view the theatre company as a family. In chapter 19, Widge is relieved when Mr. Heminges offers to protect him from his 'old master,' and enjoys his time with the company. However, he becomes nervous when his peers discover his ability to write quickly in charactery. In chapter 20, it's revealed that Julian, injured in a fencing practice by the aggressive Nick, is actually a girl.

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An in-depth summary of each chapter follows:

Chapter 18: Widge walks into the prop room, where he finds locked trunks. He begins searching through the trunks in order to find the script. He only finds weapons, shields, and props that resemble human remains. Soon after, he hears footsteps approaching that go to lock the theater. It is then that Widge realizes he is locked in the room for the night. He decides he will not try and break open the locked trunks, as it’ll be obvious he stole the script if he gets caught. He manages the rest of the night with no food or water and wakes up in the morning when the doors are unlocked, and he is able to sneak out of the theater. Upon returning to Mr. Pope’s, he finds Mr. Pope and Sander rather than Falconer, which he is relieved by. When they ask him where he’s been, he creates a tale that his old master had tried to kidnap him, but he managed to escape. Upon hearing this, Mr. Pope seems concerned about Widge’s well-being, which touches Widge. When Sander tells Widge that Mr. Pope was concerned about him and called him his boy, Widge says that it “implied something more, something better—that I was not merely part of a household, but part of a family.”

Also in chapter 18, Nick and Mr. Armin argue because Nick wants to be promoted to male roles rather than female roles. Mr. Armin argues that Nick is not ready because he stays up late drinking and gambling. Widge asks Sander why they don’t just throw Nick out because of all the trouble he causes. Sander tells him it’s because they are a family and Nick is a brother; one wouldn’t throw out his own brother during a hard time. Again, the idea of family and loyalty is brought forth in this chapter.

In the last few pages, Widge is told that Mr. Heminges wants to see him in the property room. This makes him anxious, as he worries that Mr. Heminges wants to see him because he knows he spent the night in the property room the night before.

Chapter 19: Widge walks nervously into the property room to meet Mr. Heminges, who is doing the monthly accounting and tells him he heard of the trouble Widge was in the night before. Widge is confused at first, thinking he was caught, but soon Mr. Heminges tells him that many of the prentices have run from their masters. It is then that Widge realizes Mr. Pope has told Mr. Heminges about the tale he created that morning. Mr. Heminges then tells him if he can prove himself, they will offer to buy him from his master if his master comes for him. This flatters Widge, as he feels that he is truly cared about for the second time, but he also feels guilty, as he knows his true motives and that he was sent there by Falconer.

He spends the next week nervously glancing about, waiting for Falconer’s arrival. One day, Sander asks him why he’s always so nervous. Widge says it’s because he’s just getting used to his surroundings and all of the changes, so Sander offers to take him on a type of tour with Julian to help him get familiarized.

That morning at fencing practice, the teachers are called away, so Nick takes charge. Julian challenges Nick’s leadership, which eventually leads to a fencing match between the two. Quickly, Nick is taking out his anger on Julian, and Sander and Widge try to break the two up. The squabble finally ends when Mr. Armin appears. He breaks the boys up and then tells Nick he has a man’s part in the upcoming play. He is dismissed from practice, and Julian and Sander learn they will begin practicing for his old parts.

The next day the boys go to tour the country. Sander and Julian practice their part while Widge writes their lines in Dr. Bright’s characters. This raises questions from the boys. They are amazed by Widge’s quick writing abilities and decide that he should copy the plays of the Lord Admiral’s men. He quickly talks them out of taking the idea to Mr. Heminges by saying he doesn’t want any more duties. The boys oblige. They then sit to eat their lunch, and shortly after, Widge sees a dark-clothes figure walking down the road.

Chapter 20: Mr. Shakespeare is the man approaching, which relaxes Widge. The boys start talking about Shakespeare—his sad attitude, his love life, and his children. The boys soon turn gloomy themselves and spend the rest of the afternoon uneventfully. Widge describes the next week as uneventful as well, full of work and practicing.

Nick loses his part in the play because he keeps coming to practice drunk, and he returns to fencing practice with the younger boys. Nick is angry about the demotion and spiteful toward the boys, especially Sander, who has taken many of his roles.

The Lord Chamberlain’s Men are asked to perform Hamlet for the Queen, so much of the next few weeks are spent preparing and practicing for the play. The boys talk about the importance of this play after the Queen leaves unhappy after a showing of Richard III. The children aren’t able to practice much during this time, but they do have fencing practice for an hour a day. Nick and Julian are paired on a day sheep’s blood is used for extra effect. During practice, Nick jabs Julian hard in the chest and causes him to bleed. Mr. Armin runs to Julian’s aid to help him bandage the wound, but Julian persistently refuses Mr. Armin’s help. Mr. Armin will not back down, though, and it is then that the boys realize that Julian is actually a girl. Mr. Armin takes her away to get bandaged.

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In Chapter 18, Widge is searching in the property room for a playbook to deliver to Falconer, and is inadvertently locked in for the night. When the doors are unlocked in the morning, Mr. Pope asks where he has been, and Widge concocts the story that his old master had waylaid him, but that he had managed to escape and return to the Company. Widge is touched by Mr. Pope's genuine concern, having never experienced anything like it before. During fencing practice, Nick acts up again, and Widge asks Sander why he does not get thrown out. Sander replies that it is because the theatre is "a sort of family," and Nick is like one of their brothers.

Widge is called before Mr. Heminges in Chapter 19. The kind man, believing Widge's story from the day before, tells him that the Company will protect him should his purported master come back. Falconer does not return, however, and Widge enjoys a gloriously happy few weeks. Nick is promoted to play a boy's part, and the others, including Widge, are given bigger roles in the Company as well. The boys go for an outing in the country, and catch Widge using charactery when copying his lines. They are impressed, and curious about it. A "dark-clothed figure" comes down the road, and Widge fears it is Falconer come to take him away, but it is only Mr. Shakespeare.

In Chapter 20, the boys conjecture about why Mr. Shakespeare is always melancholy. Nick does not change his ways, and is demoted from playing boys' roles; making him more angry and dangerous than ever. The Company has been asked to perform Hamlet for the royal court, and everyone is nervous and on edge. During fencing practice, Nick becomes overaggressive and injures his partner, Julian. As Julian's wound is tended, it is discovered that he is not a boy at all, but a girl.

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