The Playmaker

by J.B. Cheaney

Dell, February, 2002.
Trade paperback, 307 pages.
ISBN: 0440417104
Ages 10 and up

The Playmaker by J.B. Cheaney The Playmaker is a tale that takes the reader into the Elizabethan Age, when danger and mystery were the facts of everyday life and no one's future was secure. With the skill that comes from the intimate knowledge of a particular period of history, J. B. Cheaney, who has always nurtured a deep love for Shakespeare, pulls the reader into the violent and perilous life that an orphaned young person of fourteen is about to face. In order to prepare the reader for a time when Church and State were joined and to be of a different religion was to be suspected of treachery, the author sets the stage with an explanation of the peculiar politics of the time in the Prologue.

Richard Malory is faced with an enormous problem. His mother has just died, and before her death she had told him that he must find his long-lost father, but that the last person he should approach would be his father's sister. He should go to her only if he were starving. With no more than a letter of recommendation from his rector and teacher, young Richard Malory now has to find a way to survive, get a job and find his father. It is when Richard goes to see a bear and his trainer near a bear garden that the image of the powerful beast that can seem friendly and then strike with power and ferocity enters as a powerful image in the story. Richard finally ends up in the theater and after doing well in a reading arranged for by the Lord Chamberlain's Men, joins the group of actors, one of whom is known affectionately as "Will". While hiding from some unknown persons who seem to be intent on harming him, Richard learns about life as he takes on the many parts that an actor in a repertory company must master. Richard also learns about the meaning of honesty and friendship and how very difficult it is to understand what is the most honorable thing to do when life becomes complex.

Ms. Cheaney skillfully leads the reader not only through Elizabethan London, but also acquaints the reader with the language of the time. Just enough of the street talk and idioms of the time are incorporated into the dialogue to give a sense of the flavor of Elizabethan language, but one never feels as if the characters speak strangely. Not only does the author acquaint the reader with the everyday colloquial language, but one is led into an understanding of the plays of Shakespeare as well. The Playmaker is an absolute delight, from the Prologue at the beginning to the Historical Note at the end. Highly recommended.

-- Sarah Reaves White

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This review was published in the April, 2002 of The Internet Writing Journal.

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