All the World's A Stage: A Novel in Five Acts
FINALIST FOR THE 2012 PEN CENTER USA LITERARY AWARD FOR CHILDREN'S LITERATURE
And the reviews are in!
ALL THE WORLD'S A STAGE: A Novel in Five Acts
Author: Woelfle, Gretchen
Illustrator: Cox, Thomas
ISBN ( Hardcover ): 978-0-8234-2281-4
A novel of Elizabethan theater centers around an unsuccessful thief. Kit is caught up in the excitement of a performance by the Lord Chamberlain’s men at the Theatre. Unfortunately, he is a penniless, runaway 12-year-old orphan forced to work as a cutpurse, stealing money from audience members. Distracted by the drama, he fails in his first attempt and agrees to work for the players to avoid prison. Reluctantly, he is caught up in their hectic world of rehearsal and performance. Woelfle opens a revealing window into 1590s London and its dynamic theater scene. There are intriguing snapshots of one William Shakespeare, who finds his inspiration from street songs and conversations he overhears. Men and boys play the roles of women, sew costumes, rehearse speeches and sword fights and build sets. The scene stealer here is the intrigue behind the stealthy deconstruction of the Theatre and its rebuilding as the Globe due to a legal squabble with the landlord. Against this backdrop, Kit grapples with his own career choices, growing into the satisfying realization that carpentry is his calling. Young Molly, who sells apples in the theater, is a welcome friend and foil. Readers of Gary Blackwood’s The Shakespeare Stealer (1998) will find this equally exciting. The conceit of organizing the story through acts and scenes in lieu of chapters sets the stage nicely for a dramatic tale. (author’s note, glossary, bibliography) (Historical fiction. 8-12)
In Elizabethan England, 12-year-old Kit is one of hundreds of boys from the countryside who arrive in London to seek a trade. Unfortunately, Kit’s first apprenticeship is with a gang of thieves, who order him to steal purses from the crowd at the Theatre playhouse, where Shakespeare is the writer in residence. After Kit is caught, the Theatre’s managers give him the option of working off his crime, and what begins as a punishment turns into a thrilling opportunity as Kit becomes an indispensable stagehand and falls in love with theatrical life. Woelfle adds additional tension with a story, based on true events, of the players’ eviction from one site, and the secret, rushed dismantling of the timbers that eventually formed the Globe Theatre at a different location. But the most compelling drama is Kit’s universal search for his calling and his shifting friendships, particularly with a girl so clever that even Shakespeare quotes her. An author’s note, a glossary, and a bibliography add more curricular tie-ins, while frequent charming drawings enhance the sense of time and place.
— Gillian Engberg
This accessible, you-are-there saga of Elizabethan London and the Lord Chamberlain’s Men (the theater troupe home to Will Shakespeare et al.) is suitably nuts-and-bolts given its protagonist, a young cutpurse turned carpenter. Country boy Kit, newly orphaned, has come to the big city to make his fortune. Pressed into service by the Chamberlain’s Men after he’s caught trying to steal patrons’ purses, he comes to know theater life from the inside out. Kit works as stage boy, messenger, and even bit player as he strives to find his place in the world. Both novel and Kit’s search culminates with the bold “theft” of the playhouse from under the nose of a threatening landlord. Readers will be enthralled as, piece by piece, the playhouse is dismantled and rebuilt (as the famous Globe Theatre); simultaneously, Kit falls in love with the art of carpentry (“’Tis work that will satisfy my heart and my head”). Woelfle sprinkles the narrative with just enough “twas”s and “he knew not”s to add flavor without seeming contrived, and Kit’s journey from lost boy to young man with a future is as satisfying as the detailed portrait of place and time. Martha V. Parravano
SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL
Gr 5-8–This engaging tale of adventure and self-discovery in 16th-century London revolves around a true, and remarkable, historical event: the dismantling of a theater on the north side of the Thames so it could be stolen, beam by beam, and rebuilt on the south bank as the Globe Theatre. While the owner of the Globe, its master builder, and William Shakespeare are all featured as characters, the main player is scrappy Kit Buckles, a friendless orphan who tries his hand at petty thievery and bungles it. To atone for being a pickpocket, the 12-year-old goes to work as a stage boy, cleaning, delivering messages, and acting as a stand-in player. In no time he’s an integral part of the company. As the drama unfolds, Kit attempts to discover his destiny; the chapter headings (“Messenger,” “Apprentice,” etc.) represent the various identities he tries on like costumes. The tale is well structured and interesting, and the language is infused with Shakespearean phrases sure to please fans of the Bard. An author’s note recounts the facts of the Globe’s construction. With its engaging characters and manageable length, this is a good pick for historical-fiction novices, and an obvious choice for kids with an interest in Shakespeare and his time.
FOR THE CLASSROOM
“Readers will be enthralled . . . [by] this accessible, you-are- there saga.” —The Horn Book
Inspired by fact, this coming-of-age story offers a vivid picture of the rebuilding of and life behind the curtain at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre.
All the World’s a Stage is written in five acts with scenes for each. Discuss why you think the author chose to structure the novel this way. What significance do the chapter titles have?
Shakespeare’s plays include comedies, tragedies, and histories. Which do you think best describes All the World’s a Stage?
What circumstances led Kit to live on his own on the streets of London? Besides being “cutpurses,” what were other options for orphans in Elizabethan England?
Why does Kit at first prefer living on the streets to working at the theater, and why does he later decide to return?
Shakespeare often used the theme of appearance vs. reality in his plays. In what ways is that theme used in All the World’s a Stage?
In Shakespeare’s time, women’s roles were played by boys. Why do you think there were no actresses?
When Kit tells Molly, “At least you have got good luck now” (p. 41), she replies, “ ’Tis not luck.” What does she mean, and how does Kit learn the truth of her words?
Kit asks Will Shakespeare why he buys broadsides in the marketplace. Shakespeare responds, “Everything is food for my plays” (p. 45) and adds, “You are writing a play too, lad, the play of your life” (p. 46). Discuss how this theme, echoing the book’s title, is demonstrated throughout the novel.
Kit and Molly discuss fate. Kit quotes Shakespeare, who called Romeo and Juliet “star-crossed lovers. ’Twas their fate to die” (p. 122). But in his later play Julius Caesar, Shakespeare paraphrases Molly’s belief, “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves. . . .” (I, ii, 140–141).These contradictory statements echo much of Kit’s conflict throughout the novel.What role, if any, did fate play in Kit’s life?
Shakespeare spends his days building a frame of words. Master Street builds buildings. What influenced Kit’s final decision regarding his life’s path?