Gary L. Blackwood

Shakespeare’s Scribe

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Shakespeare’s Scribe Summary

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Shakespeare’s Scribe is the second book in author Gary L. Blackwood’s ongoing series of middle-grade historical novels set during the heyday of the Bard. Published in 2002, the novel continues the adventures of the orphan boy Widge, whose acceptance into Shakespeare’s theater troupe following the events of the first novel, Shakespeare Stealer, leads to a growing relationship with Shakespeare himself. The novel follows the acting company as they decamp from London to take a tour of the countryside, and also explores the mysteries of Widge’s parentage and his struggle for a more successful acting career.

Fifteen-year-old Widge possesses a talent rare in Elizabethan England – he knows shorthand and can take dictation. In the first novel of the series, his previous master Dr. Timothy Bright tried to exploit this ability to use Widge to steal Shakespeare’s new hit production, Hamlet. However, that novel ended with Wedge being accepted into The Lord Chamberlain’s Men – the very troupe he had been sent to defraud.

As Shakespeare’s Scribe opens, Widge is fully ensconced in the group, with a variety of friends among the actors. However, as the summer of 1602 begins, what was going to be a promising season of theater is shadowed by a wave of plague that is sweeping through London. The Queen’s physician declares that theaters must close for the season to try to hold back the tide of plague deaths.

In order to continue earning money, The Lord Chamberlain’s Men decide to go on a tour of England. Widge is sad to leave his best friend, Sander Cooke, behind in London but is excited to spend the summer tramping around the countryside. The company is joined by Ned Shakespeare, William’s brother, who is in a slight bit of trouble after getting “a prominent landowner’s daughter with child,” and by a new apprentice actor, Sal Pavy. Sal has come from another acting company, and his experience and youthful good looks make him a natural rival to Widge, as both teenagers vie for the plays’ female roles (as in Shakespeare’s time, women weren’t allowed to act).

The novel follows the men, describing the day-to-day life of a traveling actor in Elizabethan England, which seems dull until a brawl breaks out in one of the towns where the troupe stops over whether or not the players should be allowed to perform. Shakespeare’s arm is broken in the altercation, and he is unable to write – a disaster, since he is in the middle of composing the comedy All’s Well That Ends Well, one of Shakespeare’s “problem plays” which pose a complex riddle for the characters to solve. Widge’s shorthand abilities save the day, and he becomes Shakespeare’s amanuensis.

The Lord Chamberlain’s Men stop in York, the city where Widge was born and where he spent his childhood in an orphanage. Going to visit that place, Widge discovers some clues about the identity of his mother and finds her rosary, which becomes a treasured keepsake. At the same time, Jamie Redshaw finds Widge and claims to be his father. Although there is some evidence that this may, in fact, be the case, Widge is not sure whether to believe what Redshaw is saying.

Redshaw joins the troupe, but as he travels with them, a series of strange occurrences seem to revolve around him. As Widge grows increasingly suspicious of this newcomer, his investigations lead him to the truth: Redshaw isn’t his father at all but is, instead, another spy sent by a rival theater company to poach the newest of Shakespeare’s plays. This brings up all of Widge’s own guilt over the way he originally joined the acting troupe – as a thief sent to steal the playwright’s work.

As the summer ends and the men return to London, Widge is shocked to find Sander missing. In a sad turn of events, he learns that his best friend has died from the plague while Widge was on tour. Brokenhearted, the teenager decides that The Lord Chamberlain’s Men is better off without him – but the men who have become his friends rally him to rejoin. The novel ends on a triumphant note, as Widge, newly rededicated to acting, comes back to the company and beats out Sal Pavy for the lead role of the brilliant and capable Helena in the newest production – All’s Well That Ends Well, the play he helped to write down.