Unlike Kit Marlowe, who never knew a Jew, Will Shakespeare is convinced that if he could only meet one he would write a better play than The Jew of Malta.
Will’s pal Tuck Smythe (Much Ado About Murder, 2002, etc.) thinks armorer Ben Dickens probably knows some Jews, so off they go, arriving just as Tom Locke enters in despair. Henry Mayhew has declared him unfit to marry his daughter Portia because Tom’s mom is Jewish. Tuck rashly suggests that Tom elope—the same advice Elizabeth Darcie, Tuck’s true love, offers Portia when the distraught young lady confides in her. But elopement is not in the Tarot dealt out by cunning Granny Meg: Someone stabs poor Tom. When Will and Tuck inform Tom’s dad, the shy Locke, of the murder, he quickly decides Henry Mayhew is to blame and puts him on trial by the Thieves’ Guild, which he and Moll Cutpurse co-chair. Things look dire until Will, called on as a witness against Mayhew, rises instead to his defense. Bringing Portia, Elizabeth, and their sophisticated friend Antonia to the judging scene and interrogating them like an Elizabethan Perry Mason, he gets to the bottom of things—emerging with enough material to people his own anti-Semitic play.
Hawke’s afterword tries to put Shakespeare’s anti-Semitism in perspective by liberally quoting Asimov’s Guide to Shakespeare. Strewth, he’s persuasive, but readers may still yearn for the roistering high spirits of his earlier Will and Tuck engagements.