Sunday, February 1, 2004

Shakespeare's Spy

Blackwood, Gary. 2003. SHAKESPEARE’S SPY. New York: Dutton’s Children’s Books. ISBN 0525471456 [Suggested Grade Levels 6-8]

Orphaned Widge’s adventures continue in Elizabethan England with the Lord Chamberlain’s Men play company. Set against the backdrop of religious instability on the eve of Queen Elizabeth’s death, the company is facing internal struggles as well. Money is tight, costumes and plays are missing, and plays are being edited for religious content. Anyone not in church is fined. Everyone in the company is on edge as their future with the new monarch is in doubt. The performers have enjoyed the patronage of Queen Elizabeth. How will the Stuart king feel about actors and the theater? Widge is battling the prophecy of a fortune-teller claiming he will be the reason for someone’s death as well as a crush he has developed on Mr. Shakespeare’s petulant daughter, Judith. In order to win her favor, Widge claims to be writing a play of his own, but finds that he is better as the performer rather than the writer. Widge does eventually indirectly cause the death of one of his friends, but he also regains good friend Julia who returns to London from France.

Combined with the continuing Catholic and Protestant conflicts and the immergence of the Jesuits, Widge has grown and matured since his last adventure. He is perpetually curious about his past and learns few more valuable fragments about his parents. The story itself mixes history with mystery, and fact with fiction. The novel includes vivid details about London at the end of Elizabeth’s rule. The dialogue is peppered with expressions indicative of the time. The novel provides insights into the history of the times without bludgeoning readers with a dry history lesson. The story is as engaging and compelling as the previous installments.

Encourage children to read Shakespeare or adaptations of Shakespeare’s works. Have children compare Shakespeare’s stories and characters to modern day literature. Readers can also research Elizabethan England, the Globe Theater, and Shakespeare himself. Although Queen Elizabeth is one of England’s most

Have readers find as many Elizabethan English phrases and expressions in the text as they can. They can then create a glossary of these terms for future readers.

Encourage children to write their own play, as Widge attempted to do in the story. Or have readers adapt a chapter of the novel for the stage.

Other books by Blackwood featuring the same characters:

By Lea Ann Gilbert

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