An enjoyable read with good themes and plenty of action.
All his life, at the orphanage and then as an apprentice to a crooked doctor, orphan Widge has done what he is told without questioning the morality of it. When he is hired by a stranger to steal the play Hamlet from William Shakespeare's men in London, Widge agrees; after all, he is watched by a frightening man named Falconer and has no choice. But after he is caught backstage during the Hamlet performance and lies to save his skin, Widge is taken in to the life of the players and finds himself becoming one of them. But he must steal the play - or must he?
The morality of Widge's actions is addressed throughout, though for the majority of the book he merely does what he does for pragmatic reasons. He is also very good at lying and does it often to keep his real purpose a secret; this is also addressed. He is not an especially upright person and has no real foundation for his morality, but right and wrong are properly dealt with in the story's context. Friendship and loyalty are two of the key points of the story.
Dr. Bright, Widge's first master, is a clergyman and a doctor, but is also very crooked. The ghost in Hamlet is mentioned repeatedly. Widge climbs to the top of St. Paul's Cathedral.
Widge is threatened with death if he does not obtain the play Hamlet. He and the other boys at the Globe have fencing lessons. There are several duels; one person is stabbed in the collarbone, another is later killed. Someone is stabbed in the stomach, but a metal stomach-guard protects them.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Ale is consumed. One character frequently drinks too much and is seen drunk a few times. Tobacco is smoked.
The younger boys at the Globe theater play women's roles and bodices are mentioned. Some characters attempt to guess why Shakespeare is so glum; someone says that perhaps it is a love affair, another replies that Shakespeare is married, and the first person asks when that stopped anyone.
Crude or Profane Language or Content
Widge exclaims "Gog's bread," "Gog's blood," etc., which were popular euphemisms for "God's...". When locked in a room, he also finds it necessary to relieve himself in a helmet.
"The Shakespeare Stealer" is an enjoyable story, though sometimes overly dramatic and probably best suited to the 11-12-year-olds it was written for. The historical context is very well researched and written, giving the book an authentic feel. The morals are respectable and the plot - an attempt to steal the Tragedy of Hamlet - is very reasonable, as people often attempted to steal Shakespeare's plays. It also provides a nice twist at the end.