CM . . . .
Volume VII Number 11 . . . . February 2, 2001
"Buy my cloth, young masters, for a new jerkin or cape," cried a hawker as we walked past. "All the latest tones--puke brown, goose-turd green, rat's colour. Charm your lady friends with a doublet of dead Spaniard grey."In London taking a summer course, teen Perin Willougby listens to the debate over the true authorship of works attributed to William Shakespeare. On a class outing, she finds herself transported to Elizabethan times and befriended by actor John Pyke. Mistaken for a boy and unable to get back to her own time, she is apprenticed as Willow to Shakespeare, himself, at the Globe Theatre. Willow works her way up in the ranks of the theatre company where she learns of Edward de Vere who, many believe, secretly penned Shakespeare's plays. Upon her return to the present, Perin finds she's changed the course of history, and it is de Vere's name that now appears on the covers of works of Shakespeare.
Using the comedic style, this novel is richly peopled with authentic Elizabethan characters in a sensuously detailed setting. The graphic descriptions of the filthy living conditions of the day are so frequent as to be almost overdone. However, readers will have no illusions about the air in old London! The dialogue is a clever blend of Perin's teen-speak (cliches and all) and the typical speech of the actors (given to mild profanity). There are plenty of examples of literary devices for students of English to identify. Humourous scenes abound, including Willow's attempts to conceal her gender while struggling with her affection for Pyke.
Feeling awkward in her own century, Perin discovers her strengths in the 17th as she slips into the dramatic roles given to her and grows confident in situations that test her imagination, sense of honesty and courage. Scattered through the book are short chapters written from John Pyke's viewpoint. These serve to keep 'the Pykster' in the forefront as he has the crucial task of enacting the changes that Willow sets in motion.
The plot is suspenseful and rife with conflict. The outcome is not predictable as important details of the authorship puzzle are only clearly explained in the final pages. The novel would work well as a companion to a study of Shakespeare or as an entertaining read-aloud since many aspects of Shakespeare's world may generate questions and discussion. (Compare this book to Susan Cooper's King of Shadows for a more flattering portrayal of the character of Shakespeare.)
A resident of BC, Gillian Richardson is a former teacher-librarian and a published writer of children's fiction and nonfiction.
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