Richard Nisley

The Wonderful Winter
Pop Culture Released - Apr 07, 2019
Having read “William Shakespeare of London” by Marchette Chute I decided to read “The Wonderful Winter.” While ostensibly a children’s novel, it’s a fairly sophisticated story set in Elizabethan England, about a boy who runs away from home and is taken in by a family whose world revolves around the London theater. William Shakespeare is one of the characters. The author takes full advantage of the exhaustive research she did while writing Shakespeare’s biography, to create an historically accurate yet enchanting world for a boy of about 12 to have an adventure. If you aren’t familiar with Marchette Chute, she’s a first-rate storyteller, whether it’s a biography, a Bible commentary, or children’s literature.

The story is told from the point of view of Sir Robert Walker, a.k.a. Robin. We experience the world as he experiences it, from his three-day trek from Suffolk to London, where he wanders the narrow streets looking for work and a place to stay. After a day or two his wandering takes him back outside the city to a round thatched-roof theater, where he sees a production of Shakespeare’s Henry VI Part 2. He’s put off by the multiple beheadings but otherwise is bedazzled by the array of actors forever entering and exiting the stage, and by their brightly colored customs. One thing leads to another and Robin becomes a guest at the home of John Heminges, one of the principle theater owners (with William Shakespeare). He helps with chores and wins the affection of Mrs. Heminges and her three daughters, one of whom he rescues from drowning under the ice of the frozen Thames. But can he act? That’s the question that consumes the best part of the story, for it tells us so much about the London stage in Shakespeare day; about stage direction and the physical skills required: the ability to dance, fence, negotiate freely in bulky costumes, speak lines clearly while projecting your voice to the farthest reaches of the theater. Not everyone can do it, and Robin prove to be one who can. His real talent, however, is gardening. When spring comes and the theater troupe prepares to tour the provinces, Robin decides it’s time to return home. The boy who ran away at the start of winter and returns home is considerably wiser and now older than his years.

Unlike her biography of William Shakespeare, the author speculates on Shakespeare’s marriage, through the voice one of her characters. “I cannot help holding it against Anne Shakespeare,” says John Heminges, “that she refuses to be a real wife to Will. She stays in Stratford for the children’s safety, but the boy died in any case. And there is strength in being together that she will never know.” Also unlike the bio, she speculates on Shakespeare’s creative genius. “(People) have their reasons, and I like to find out what they are,” she has Shakespeare say. “When I read a book or old play (for source material), I can see the people moving behind the pages, waiting for someone to set them free, and that is why I write plays on my own. The words are waiting, and the people. It is only a question of getting them together.”

A wonderful book, entertaining and informative, that had me turning pages until I finished.

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