I had read this book years ago and decided that my good memory of it was worth going back and trying it again. I was right. This is one extremely well researched, thought out, and written book.
Nat Field is a young actor recruited by a somewhat mysterious man named Arby to play Puck in Arby's version of "A Midsummer Night's Dream". The company of actors are all boys aged 11-18. They will play in the brand-new reproduction of Shakespeare's Globe. Just before the play opens Nat falls ill. He is taken to the hospital where he is diagnosed with bubonic plague.
Meanwhile Nat wakes up in 1599, four hundred years before his own time. Everyone believes him to be Nat Field from St. Paul's school, loaned to Shakespeare's company to play Puck to Shakespeare's Oberon in a very important performance of the "Dream." Shakespeare and Nat quickly connect, forming a strong personal bond. Nat, who has suffered much loss in his life, is a kindred spirit to Shakespeare, who recently lost his son Hamnet. Their relationship is one of the most believable and warm parts of the book. Cooper's Shakespeare is one you want to be the real Shakespeare.
The company is nervous as it is believed that Queen Elizabeth I herself may come to see the play. But the big day arrives and all goes well. Nat, a boy from 1999, meets Queen Elizabeth.
After the play Nat realizes that his current situation cannot stay the way it is. Nat Field will be returning to St. Paul's where Nat will instantly be rejected. He promises Shakespeare to come back when he is grown and act with him again.
I am a weepy person. And I cried at the end of this book. It was beautiful. And you know, I believed it, the possiblity of it. I can't really say anything else because I'll completely spoil the book, but the characterizations were such that it felt right to me. Bravo Susan Cooper!