King of Shadows Discussion Guide
- Grades: 6–8
About this book
About the Book
With the death of his parents, Nathan Field has experienced tragedy in his own life. But it's a Shakespearean comedy that brings him to the New Globe, a reconstruction of the London theater where Shakespeare's plays were first performed. The American Company of Boys takes a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream to London, and they choose Nathan to be their Puck. Nathan is thrilled, but once in London, he wakes up to find himself in Elizabethan England. Here he rehearses the play in the original Globe, and plays opposite Shakespeare himself. Those around him believe that he has been sent from an exclusive boys' school, so they don't question his strange accent or manner. Although Nathan is nervous about what will happen to him next, he grows to love acting with Shakespeare's troupe. He even gets to perform for Queen Elizabeth!
With Shakespeare's help, Nathan finally begins to heal from the loss of his father. Shakespeare gives Nathan one of his own sonnets to keep, and promises to write a part for him. The day after Nathan performs for the queen, he wakes up in a 20th Century London hospital. It seems that he and an Elizabethan Nathan Field were switched—the Elizabethan Nathan was cured of Bubonic Plague in the London hospital while 20th Century Nathan took his bows with Shakespeare. Arby, his theater director, admits that he arranged the switch so that Shakespeare wouldn't be exposed to the plague and die before he had a chance to write many of his greatest plays. Although Nathan is sad to lose his opportunity to be with Shakespeare, Arby cheers him by showing him a character he had clearly inspired—the part of Ariel in The Tempest.
Before Reading the Book
You might want to prepare students for reading about Shakespeare and Elizabethan England by showing them video clips from a few movies. Students might enjoy seeing one of Puck and Oberon's scenes, with Puck played by Mickey Rooney in the 1935 movie of A Midsummer Night's Dream. Then you can show them a clip of Stanley Tucci playing Puck in the 1999 version. You might even want to show them the Puck scene from Dead Poet's Society. So that they get a picture of what Elizabethan England and the Globe looked like, show them the opening of the 1945 Laurence Oliver version of Henry V.
After students finish reading the book, guide a discussion with the following questions.
- During Nathan's first day in Elizabethan England, he sees, feels, smells, tastes, and hears a whole different world. How does Susan Cooper make that world come alive for the reader? Find an example of how Nathan experiences this strange place through his senses.
- Judging from the scenes in the book, how would you describe Puck's relationship to Oberon? Why do you think it's important that Shakespeare is playing Oberon opposite Nathan's Puck? Does it mirror their relationship offstage?
- The title of the book is King of Shadows. What or who are the shadows that the title refers to? Who is the king?
- Shakespeare gives Nathan one of his sonnets to comfort Nathan about his father's suicide. Read the poem on page 105. Why do you think that Shakespeare thought it would help Nathan? What does it say about love?
- Why would Richard Burbage care so much about keeping Shakespeare alive? What would it mean for him?
- Arby talks to Nathan about how he needed to find a boy "who had a fierce painful need strong enough to take him through Time." How would you describe Nathan's need? Do you think the trip to Elizabethan England satisfied his need? How?
- Why is acting so important for Nathan? Do the companies he works with become his families, as Arby wishes?