HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: Shakespeare’s Scribe
Author: Gary Blackwood
Cover Illustrator: Greg Call
Publisher: Puffin , republished in 2002
Related website: www.penguinputnam.com (publisher)
Language level: 3
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Reading level: Ages 10 and up
Rating: 4 stars (GOOD)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Blackwood, Gary. Shakespeare’s Scribe (published in 2000 by Dutton Children’s Books, a division of Penguin Putnam Books for Young Readers, a division of The Penguin Group, 345 Hudson St., New York City, NY 10014). Widge is a fifteen-year-old orphan boy who has become an apprentice actor in William Shakespeare’s troupe, known as the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. It is the summer of 1602, and the bubonic plague is rearing its ugly head. Theaters in London are closed down, so Widge goes on the road with the rest of the company, except for his best friend Alexander (Sander) Cooke, who stays behind. When they get to York, Widge visits the orphanage where he was raised and learns a little more about his mother. He also finds a man named Jamie Redshaw who gives some evidence of possibly being his father and begins travelling with the players.
Will Shakespeare breaks his arm, and Widge, with his ability to write in shorthand which was taught to him by one of his previous masters, Dr. Timothy Bright, can easily take dictation while Shakespeare strives to continue writing plays. However, a number of strange things start to happen, and they all seem to revolve around Jamie Redshaw. Is he really Widge’s father or not? Also, a new apprentice, Salathiel Pavy, seems to be trying to take away many of the roles which Widge has done. Can Widge remain with the troupe, or will he be replaced? And when Widge returns to London, he finds that Sander has disappeared. What has happened to his friend? Shakespeare’s Scribe is a sequel to Blackwell’s The Shakespeare Stealer, which introduced Widge as a boy hired to steal a play by Shakespeare by copying it down in shorthand who then ends up joining the company.
I enjoyed The Shakespeare Stealer, so I thought that I would read the sequel. It gives a good view for young people of what life was like in early seventeenth-century England. A few language issues occur, with a couple of instances of the “d” word and some places where the term “Lord” is used as an interjection. The usual excuse for including such things is to make the plot more “realistic,” but for the life of me I really can’t understand some writers’ compulsion to do such things in a children’s book. A number of references to drinking beer, ale, and brandy are found, and there is a somewhat crude joke involving a person’s “bum.” Some parents may also question the age appropriateness of including the fact that Shakespeare’s brother Edmund (Ned) left his previous residence to join the company because he had “gotten a prominent landowner’s daughter with child.” And, of course, it turns out that Widge’s mother was unwed. It is a somewhat mixed bag, but for the most part the story is quite interesting, although I would recommend it primarily for those on the older end of the suggested reading level. There is now a third book in the series, Shakespeare’s Spy.