Dear Book Lady,
In high school English, I remember reading a play about a man who steals bread to feed his family but is considered a criminal and hunted by the police. I keep racking my brain to try and remember what it was. I know we studied Shakespeare, but I don't know which play it might be. It isn't Hamlet, because we didn't read that one. It obviously isn't Romeo and Juliet! Do you have an essay about this?
Well, not yet; but let's see what we can do to remedy that, shall we?
You're on the right track about its not being Shakespeare. The only place it might have slipped by me there would be one of the Henry VI plays, which are the only works of his I haven't read (other than a stray sonnet or two) and just my luck there'd be three of them. But still -- the main character is the king of England, so I'm thinking it's a safe bet we can rule him out as the culprit.
You had me racking my brain there, too. Cudgeling, more like. Because as soon as you described the plot, a title sprang to mind right away, but it wasn't a play.
So, just to be safe, I ran out to the library and harassed several innocent reference librarians. All of them confirmed my own guess. Then, just to be on the safe side, I called my dear friend Tammy, who is a very good dear friend to have, especially in my case since she's everything I'm not. To be specific, she's calm and rational and an excellent savory cook, while I'm screamy and panic-stricken and pretty much limited to brownies (although I do make an excellent pie crust, come to think of it). So I keep her phone number close at hand, and when I got your letter I used it. Never mind that the poor woman has three children, a garden with actual grapes growing in it, and a pet rabbit, plus she was gearing up for a weekend of teaching vacation Bible school. When I need help, I need it now.
"Is there a play about a man who steals bread to feed his family and gets the police after him?" I asked after a brief and breathless apology. "'Cause that sounds like Les Miserables to me." Which is a novel by Victor Hugo, who wrote it some two hundred fifty years after Shakespeare died. It's about nine hundred pages in its unabridged form, so unless you went to Catholic school or something, there's no way it was on the required reading list. And that's assuming that you would be able to misremember a huge chunk of prose like that as a play, which I think is a pretty big assumption.
"It sounds like Les Miserables to me, too," Tammy said. Which was good for my sanity, but bad for your question and my reputation as Book Lady, the superhero who can answer any book- or book-group-related question. I really hate admitting defeat.
But then things looked up. "But I remember we performed it as a play in high school," Tammy added. "Not the musical they've got going now, but just a play version of the novel."
"You are a goddess in human form," I said gratefully.
I googled like my life depended on it, and guess what I found? A play version of Les Miserables, not the Broadway version; written by Jonathan Holloway and published by Samuel French. You can buy it directly from their site, and it's not too pricey; or some libraries carry it. Ours doesn't, but the Los Angeles system does; so it might be a big city thing, or just pure dumb luck. One way or another you'll be able to get your hands on a copy, and then you have to let me know if it's the one you remember. If it's not, I may be too busy drowning my sorrows in a fresh pan of brownies to help you any further; but drop me a line either way. I'm interested.
All my best,
The Book Lady
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