Read Fools and Mortals by Bernard Cornwell Online


A dramatic new departure for international bestselling author Bernard Cornwell, FOOLS AND MORTALS takes us into the heart of the Elizabethan era, long one of his favourite periods of British history.Fools and Mortals follows the young Richard Shakespeare, an actor struggling to make his way in a company dominated by his estranged older brother, William. As the growth of thA dramatic new departure for international bestselling author Bernard Cornwell, FOOLS AND MORTALS takes us into the heart of the Elizabethan era, long one of his favourite periods of British history.Fools and Mortals follows the young Richard Shakespeare, an actor struggling to make his way in a company dominated by his estranged older brother, William. As the growth of theatre blooms, their rivalry – and that of the playhouses, playwrights and actors vying for acclaim and glory – propels a high-stakes story of conflict and betrayal.Showcasing his renowned storyteller’s skill, Bernard Cornwell has created an Elizabethan world incredibly rich in its portrayal: you walk the London streets, stand in the palaces and are on stage in the playhouses, as he weaves a remarkable story in which performances, rivalries and ambition combine to form a tangled web of intrigue....

Title : Fools and Mortals
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9780007504114
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 384 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

Fools and Mortals Reviews

  • Paromjit
    2019-03-19 20:29

    Bernard Cornwell takes us into the Elizabethan era and the world of the theatre evolving from a transient company of players touring London and other towns to the birth of permanent theatre, with buildings built solely for this purpose. The popularity of plays with audiences puts pressure for new plays on a continuous basis, leading to a demand for writers to satisfy the demands of growing audiences. At the same time, the chill winds of Puritanism drive a desire to destroy the growing bastion of the theatre and its association with bawdiness, criminal elements, and seen to be a threat to the god fearing and austere section of Protestantism. If the Puritans had their way, players and writers would be purged, and to enforce their views are the Pursuivants, aka the Percies, raiding theatres and pursuing Catholics and those they deem 'criminal' with the power to hang people. However, the aristocracy and royalty are equally determined to support and sponsor this source of popular entertainment. Cornwell has clearly done his research of this historical period and his love of theatre shines brightly throughout. He does take some liberties as he blends a mix of fact and fiction as he delivers a thrilling historical take on the drama and details of the process of putting on plays with the Lord Chamberlain Men, for whom William Shakespeare writes and Richard, his brother, is a lowly but ambitious player. The two brothers are estranged, with William unwilling to help Richard. It is 1595 and Richard is a gifted thief, a skill honed by his three years of misery with Sir Godfrey Cullen, a church minister and predator that preys on the boys of St Benet's Choir School, for which William was responsible. Richard has had to suffer the indignity of continually playing women but is determined to play men with meatier roles. We are given a picture of his life of poverty, his lodgings, and relationships with the others in the company. There are the insecurites, rivalries, jealousies, betrayal, romance and intrigue as the players rehearse to perform A Midsummer's Night Dream written by William for the wedding of the daughter of the Lord Chamberlain. There are numerous real figures from the period such as the famous Will Kemp, the comic actor, and almost anything that can go wrong does.Cornwall's love of Shakespeare is transparent in the title of this novel and the knowledge of the Shakespeare plays permeating the narrative. There is rich period detail of London and the intense and demanding process of what it takes to put on a play, right down to set design and costume. Little is known of the actual Richard Shakespeare, leaving Cornwell free to breathe life into him as the protagonist, a gifted player struggling to survive, embarking on adventure and romance, and facing grave dangers. You can't help but get engaged with his travails, character and life. Cornwell does a wonderful job in making the Elizabethan world of London, Shakespeare, and theatre come vibrantly alive. A fantastic piece of compelling historical fiction which I highly recommend. Many thanks to HarperCollins for an ARC.

  • Maureen
    2019-02-22 19:10

    Hmmm, not sure about this one. Did I like it? Yes, in parts, but then other parts fell flat for me.In the latter years of the sixteenth century, the professional theatre as we know it was born. Prior to this time there were plays and actors, but the companies had nowhere to perform other than inns, parish halls and some of the great houses, until permanent playhouses were built in London.It's here that we make the aquaintance of Richard Shakespeare, an actor struggling to make a living in the shadow of his older brother William. There's no love lost between the brothers. William seems to take great joy in ridiculing Richard, and as the popularity of theatre increases, so does the rivalry between the brothers as well as the various playhouses, playwrights, and actors. These rivalries lead to some underhand dealings, and they also introduce us to some pretty nasty characters along the way.There's no doubt that Bernard Cornwell writes with great skill, and he really brings the Elizabethan era to life. It needs little imagination to walk the streets of 16th century London, such are his literary talents. However, I found it really difficult to invest in any of the characters. The storyline focused on Richard, leaving William very much in the shade, and naturally, because of this, Richard was definitely the most fleshed out, the most interesting of all the characters, but unfortunately it didn't really work for me.*Thank you to Netgalley and HarperCollins for my ARC in exchange for an honest review*

  • Emma
    2019-03-20 16:08

    This feel-good adventure in the Elizabethan era is full of detail and emotion. Slow to build but well worth the investment, it follows Richard Shakespeare, theatre player and resentful sibling to the talented, Will. Not immediately likeable, this is a journey of Richard's growth as much as anything else, and through his experiences, we are offered an intriguing picture of two very different brothers. Yet their shared home is the playhouse, with its own wild characters and rivalries, collectively determined to put on a masterful performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream, all set against a background of aggressive Puritanism, vile theft, and the looming threat of a new, rival theatre, The Swan. The reader is welcomed into this vibrantly creative world, each silver stitch and shit stained street recreated in lavish detail. At one point, Will Shakespeare describes the play as like a clock:Because we spend the first part of the play pulling upwards. We set the scene, we make confusion, we tangle our characters' lives, we suggest treason or establish enmity, and then we let the weight go, and the whole thing untangles. [...] And that, my friend, is the play. The smooth motion of the clock hand, untangling.This is precisely what Cornwell has done here, the untangling just as pleasurable as you might have hoped. It was fun; the author's clear love and enthusiasm for the subject keeps a smile on your face as you read and, once you put the book down, leaves you delighted.ARC via Netgalley

  • Emily May
    2019-03-16 23:04

    Hmm, perhaps this was a bad choice for my first foray into the world of Bernard Cornwell. I've seen his books around for years, and after my recent binge-read (and love) of Ken Follett's epic Pillars of the Earth trilogy, I was longing for some more historical fiction. This was just so bland and tame in comparison, though.Glancing around reviews, I see that this is outside of the author's usual comfort zone, making me think I should maybe try The Last Kingdom or The Winter King instead. I cannot say for sure whether I was just really uninterested in the subject matter of Fools and Mortals - theatre - or whether Cornwell didn't do it very well. All I know is that the characters didn't excite me, the story didn't grab me, and I finished this relatively short book feeling relieved I'd managed to push through.Fools and Mortals introduces us to Richard Shakespeare, brother of the famous William Shakespeare and an aspiring actor in Elizabethan England, who constantly finds himself in his brother's shadow, picking up the female roles in plays, and rarely being given a chance to shine. Unfortunately, I felt no connection or anything for him. He was bland and forgettable, and worse - the main conflicts are not exciting or dramatic enough. Considering the darkness, the religious conflicts and brutal tortures of the era, Cornwell's story of theatre was very "light". The characters are silly, inoffensive and occasionally buffoonish with “Show us your tits, ladies,” being pretty much the worst of it. Much of the story is a repetitive cycle of rehearsal and performance, which made it seem far longer than it actually was. I was bored.I have definitely been spoiled by the delicious drama of Ken Follett. I was hoping for some more of that here, but sadly no. Still, I will try the author's other work.Blog | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Youtube

  • A Bald Mage** Steve
    2019-03-03 23:18

    via GIPHYBald Mage Rating 8.5/10I would like to thank HarperCollins UK and Netgalley for giving me the opportunity to review this book for free, the release date for the book is 19th October 2017(Things base and vile, holding no quantity, Love can transpose to form and dignity: Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind, And therefore is wing’d Cupid painted blind.)When I got the opportunity to read Bernard Cornwell’s new book I couldn’t wait to get started as I’m a big fan of his Saxon Series as well as his Sharpe Series. When I started the novel I must admit thinking that this isn’t what I’m used to, with the book not having any big battles to get excited over, but I can say regardless of this I really enjoyed the book.Full Review on my Blog: Happy Reading :)

  • Dannii Elle
    2019-02-24 20:01

    My first Bernard Cornwell and I loved every second of it!Set in the Elizabethan era, this follows a group of theatrical players as they battle against the disreputable name of their trade, to hone their craft and strive to continue doing what they love. But this is not just any group of players. This group is the Lord Chamberlain Men, led by playwright William Shakespeare. And this renowned historical figure is unlike you have ever seen him portrayed before.I appreciated how the focus remained historically correct and factual (as far as I am aware) whilst also delivering an entertaining story-line. London has never been an easy place to dwell, but this really helped me to visualise the every-day struggles and strife of those who reside there. It depicted crowded streets, dank alley-ways, and noble manor houses with a flair of narrative that helped me to clearly visualise and to truly feel every facet of every scene.Focusing on actual historical figures always brings an additional entertaining element to fiction, but here I appreciated how the individuals were not painted as completely virtuous and pure, as many deceased and beloved fictional figures often are. William Shakespeare, especially, was shown to have violent fits of rage, be cold and underhand, often uncaring for human suffering, and focused only on his own creations and the success of their performance. These often scathing depictions came from the protagonist and William's brother, Richard Shakespeare. The family dynamic was an interesting one, that opened up these notorious historical figures and allowed them to become more than just two-dimensional impressions. They were real. They were human. And, so, they were flawed.I have read other reviews that state this as their least favourite of Cornwell's creations and I can, to an extent, see why. The pacing was rather slow. There was less action and intrigue and more of a slowly-built understanding of Elizabethan life formed. I found I adored this utter immersion into these past lives and found this an entirely fascinating insight. The pace was slow for a reason and really benefited this particular story-line, for me.I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to the author, Bernard Cornwell, and the publisher, Harper Collins, for this opportunity.

  • Emma
    2019-02-20 20:00

    3.5 stars was my original rating, but having reviewed it now, I realise I got a lot from the history so I’m rounding up to a full 4 stars.I’m not sure that staunch fans of Bernard Cornwell would love this. I have loved some of his work but overall it’s too focused on war, battles and fighting. This is not action packed in a way that Cornwell lovers will be used to. So this story, set in Elizabethan times was a novel I was looking forward to. I am also picky about stories set in Tudor times. There’s a lot of fiction on the market about spies and the fervour against Catholics.What we do get is the same context obviously but framed through the eyes of the theatre.Entertainment had been mobile until this point in history. Players and entertainers travelled from town to town, spreading news, singing songs and providing people outside of big cities with opportunities of fun and showmanship. It was only right at the end of the 16th century, that permanent theatres started to be built. And herein lay the problem: prior to this a troupe of players only needed a few plays in its repertoire. When they moved onto the next town or village, their material could just be used again. But on a permanent site, where the same audiences would come again and again, new and exciting play scripts were required. This was a time of rivalry and intrigue. Each theatre needed its own playwright to write fresh material and competition was fierce.Another aspect that was interesting was this: actors were all men, with younger men and boys taking women’s roles. Here we saw how hard the transition could be between being young enough to play the women parts and being mature enough to play the male leads.During this time, the City of London was a Puritan stronghold so theatres had to be built beyond the city outskirts. The fact that Elizabeth was a patron of the theatre, was the only thing keeping the theatre alive at the time. Interesting too that the theatres shut periodically as the plague returned regularly.So from a history lovers point of view, this was an interesting novel. The plot itself was simple.

  • Sarah
    2019-03-03 23:15

    So I took my sweet time finishing this one, but there was so much to savor about it. There seems to have been a revived interest in William Shakespeare this year, with the airing of the show Will over the summer. Unfortunately my understanding is that the show has been cancelled after only one season, but I watched the whole season and really loved it.So I was doubly excited to learn that not only was Bernard Cornwell releasing a new book, but it would focus on Richard Shakespeare, William's younger brother. Richard is a different sort of hero then Cornwell typically writes. He's no warrior for starters. He is described as handsome (as is typical for Cornwell heroes) but he is lacking in confidence and more timid than Uhtred or Thomas of Hookton or even Nicholas Hook. This was very refreshing.Richard, a player (actor), has forever lived in the shadow of his brother, genius playwright, William Shakespeare, and Will seems to do his best to keep him down. He speaks insultingly and condescendingly to Richard. He sends him off as boy to live with a known child molester/abuser rather than have the responsibility of caring for him. Now that Richard is an adult, Will refuses to give him men's parts, though his voice is broken and Richard does not think he can pass for a woman any longer. This is a big source of shame for Richard, and Fools and Mortals is the story of how he finds his redemption.I'm not ashamed to admit- that it takes me a lot of focus to read one of Shakespeare's plays and still understand what's going on, but Cornwell's context made the snippets we are given of the plays very accessible. I found myself laughing out loud at parts, and perhaps the next time I go to read something by Shakespeare I'll find it slightly more translatable (I hope). I'm also sort of dying to read A Midsummer Night's Dream which is the play we see rehearsed most frequently.I'm not entirely sure what the historical truth of Fools and Mortals is. I would venture that this has less than usual given the entirety of the plot is fiction. However, you do meet many historical figures, James and his son Richard Burbage, the infamous Will Kemp, the virgin Queen Elizabeth. The religious strife happening within London at the type creates a dramatic underlying tension through out the book.Though this is about plays and players, several fight scenes worm their way into the book and they were all rollicking good fun. I'd recommend this to fans of Cornwell and anyone wanting to read about 16th century London.Thank you to Edelweiss and Harper Collins for providing an ARC for me to review.

  • Ace
    2019-03-19 17:10

    4 stars ⛤⛤⛤⛤It is obvious while reading this that Bernard Cornwell's new hobby is acting in theatre. His well researched tale about the performance of A Mid Summer Nights Dream at the wedding of their sponsors daughter in 1795 (at which Queen Elizabeth was in attendance), is a delight to read.Rather than focusing on William, the story revolves around younger brother Richard who until now as a boy has been playing girls and women, but is tired of this, wants to act in a male role and earn a decent living as and actor.To be honest I was taken aback by Cornwell's announcement that he would be releasing this novel, especially since the majority of his followers were waiting on the next installment of Uhtred of Bebbanburg. As it turns out, I didn't have anything to fear, it's a great book, but if I had to criticise anything, it would be the slightly repetitive nature of his storytelling. In a longer book, I would have forgiven this style but in such a short novel, I found it unnecessary to be reminded again of something that I had only just finished reading a few pages ago. I am detracting a star for this.

  • Fiona
    2019-03-01 00:04

    A hugely enjoyable, almost entirely fictitious, romp through Shakespearean England narrated by Richard, Will’s brother. The plays are brought to life by Richard’s descriptions of performances and the book is clearly well researched in respect of how early theatre worked. It would be 5 stars except that I found there to be quite a bit of repetition. We’re told several times, for example, how ceruse mixed with crushed pearls makes the skin white and shimmering. That’s probably being a bit picky though as I raced through it and found it highly entertaining.The Epilogue is another chapter in itself in which Cornwell gives more detailed information about the early theatre and its plays. If you’re interested in this period, I strongly recommend the excellent Futurelearn course from the University of Warwick, Shakespeare and his World.Thanks to Harper Collins UK and NetGalley for a free review copy.

  • Lucy Banks
    2019-02-20 17:21

    I received a copy of this book from Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.Shakespeare? Check. Intrigue? Check. Plenty of fun? Check. I'm sold!Despite having watched The Last Kingdom on TV, I've never got around to reading any books by Bernard Cornwell, so I was delighted to give this one a go. And very entertaining it was too! The protagonist is Richard Shakespeare, the younger (and better looking) brother of William Shakespeare. He's an actor, and is sick and tired of playing lady's roles; especially as he's got his sights on a particular girl called Sylvia...However, this isn't just a book about love and acting. It's also a wonderful observation of life at the times; the role of the playhouses in society, the life of an actor, and the competition between acting troupes. Cornwell's writing is pleasantly accessible, with plenty of bawdy moments, swearing, plus some very convincing scenes, which felt impressively authentic. As someone who knows quite a bit about Shakespeare, there were no obvious errors that I noted - though one tiny comment - a female character makes reference to the rhyme 'round and round the mulberry bush' at one point... I'm sure this rhyme came about in the 1800s from a women's prison? Forgive me if I'm wrong (I'm being so nitpicky anyway; this detail in no way detracts from the book!). Overall, a brilliantly fun read; I was hooked right through. I'll have to keep my eye out for more of his books now.

  • Richard
    2019-02-20 21:26

    8/10If you’d have said I would have enjoyed a book about the trials and tribulations of actors in the 16th century and the complexities of writing, producing and performing a play then I would have quite easily said you were full of something. However, I requested this book more because of who wrote it than what it was about and went in without being overly excited about it caught me from the off and was a surprise hit with me!I was waiting for some sort of major turning point; like Shakespeare actually being a sentient being from another planet or a serial killing rogue eliminating actors from the play. But nothing like this happened. Nothing major happened at all really. Sounds a little dull but the way Cornwell weaves the tale and makes the 16th century come alive made the book flow on by without me ever noticing. I actually wanted to know how the production of A Midsummers Night Dream would turn out and what troubles there would be along the way. Whether the actors would get through the situation and pull it off or whether Shakespeare was just a flash in the pan (well I guess I knew the answer to that). There is some heavy backstory to this without massive info dumps. It just flows along nicely adding information to the tale and fleshing it out. Without it the story would fall flat. The main characters are fleshed out nicely without it being overdone but some of the minor characters aren’t developed too much.There is a little bit of a slower section in the back third after some exciting stealth action and the ending wasn’t explosive but more a nice end to the tale (which is probably perfect for this story). It may not be an era that Cornwell has looked into much previously but the research he’s done here is clear to see and makes this one to pick up. Highly recommended.I received a free copy from NetGalley

  • Bam
    2019-02-23 22:10

    "Lord, what fools these mortals be." A Midsummer Night's Dream, Act 3, Scene 2With prodigious historical-fiction writing skills, Bernard Cornwell now brings his focus to the Elizabethan era with this delightful novel set in London in 1595. It is told from the first-person point of view of Richard Shakespeare, a young actor in his brother William's theatre company. Richard runs away from home as a teen and hopes his brother Will will take him in when he reaches London. Instead, Will takes him to study with Sir Godfrey, a master of mischief and worse, who teaches boys more than just acting skills. As the story opens, Richard is working with the theatre company in women's roles, dearly hoping to be promoted to male roles now that his voice is changing. Through his eyes, the early days of theatre come to life...and the street scene of London, all the sights and nasty smells. Thank goodness Queen Elizabeth is supportive of plays in general because the Pursuivants of the Puritans love to run rampant over the populace, looking for evidence of sedition and stomping out any signs of beauty, joy or happiness. The Theatre group is hired by the Lord Chamberlain to present a play at his mansion in Blackfriars in honor of his granddaughter's wedding and it is hoped that the Queen, Lord Hunsdon's cousin, might attend. The actors will be performing A Midsummer Night's Dream and it will be quite a lavish production with the family sparing no expense. But in the midst of rehearsals the original script is stolen! Was it a rival theatre group? And among the missing papers is a new play that Will has just finished--his Romeo and Juliet! Richard thinks he knows the identity of the thief and where he might have taken the scripts. If he can get them back, he hopes William will be so grateful he will give Richard the starring role in Romeo and Juliet!Lots of action and adventure keep the reader turning pages! Lovers of Shakespeare's plays are sure to enjoy this glimpse into the period. Cornwell ends the book with Historical Notes that shed more light on how important was Queen Elizabeth's role in allowing theatre to grow and flourish in her lifetime. This era saw the birth of permanent homes for the production of plays. Before that, groups of players traveled from place to place and could repeat the same plays endlessly in front of fresh audiences. But with a permanent home and repeat audiences, a need for a constant stream of fresh plays was born. Enter Shakespeare and others like him who could dash off plays quickly. How amazing that his work has survived the test of time and is beloved to this day!

  • Jean Poulos
    2019-03-14 20:59

    Bernard Cornwell is one of my favorite historical novelists. This book is a bit different from his usual topics of British history. In this book Cornwell tells the story of Richard Shakespeare. Richard works on his career on the London stage but it is his brother, William, whose career takes off. One of William’s manuscripts disappears and Richard is the key suspect.The book is well written and researched. Cornwell has Richard telling his own story. Cornwell does a great job describing the Elizabethan Era. I felt as if I was right in the middle of the story observing it all. I was hesitant in purchasing the book because of the topic, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.I read this as an audiobook downloaded from Audible. The book is ten and a half hours. Thomas Judd does a good job narrating the book. Judd is an actor and audiobook narrator. Judd has an easy voice to listen too. This is my first experience listening to Judd narrate.

  • Margaret
    2019-03-19 18:18

    A deviation from the norm for Bernard Cornwell.Richard Shakespeare is an actor, and a thief, he is also the younger brother of William Shakespeare and a player with the Lord Chamberlain's Men.Puritans are trying to close the Theatre, Richard is fed up with playing women, and someone has stolen some of Will's plays.'Fools and Mortals' isn't a bad book. It has it's interesting points. The workings of an Elizabethean theatre company made for interesting reading. But for me, the best part was the first performance of my favourite Shakespeare comedy: A Midsummer Night's Dream.If you are interested in Elizabethean theatre seasoned with a little mystery, then you will enjoy the book. I just found it a little slow going in parts. Though the camerarderie between Richard and the musicians is hilarious.

  • Leah
    2019-03-01 18:17

    Pursued by a bear...A new playhouse is opening in London and the owners are determined to make it a huge success. Actors are easy to get hold of but new plays are the magic that bring in the playgoers. Over at the Theatre, Richard Shakespeare is struggling to survive on the measly wages he receives. He's getting too old to play women's roles and his older brother Will won't promise him roles playing men. He seems like the perfect target for the new playhouse – offer him regular well-paid work and perhaps he'd be willing to steal the two new scripts Will is working on – A Midsummer Night's Dream and Romeo and Juliet – and if he won't, maybe another member of Shakespeare's company will...This is a fairly light-hearted novel set in the world of Shakespeare's London. Cornwell has undoubtedly taken some fictional liberties with the characters of Will and Richard Shakespeare, so it may not be one for purists, but otherwise it feels well researched to me, though I'm certainly no expert. Richard is a likeable character and it's his voice that tells us the tale. Will is not likeable and seems to really resent his younger brother, for reasons that I felt were never made totally clear, though I think we are probably supposed to assume that he feels Richard is trying to cash in on his success. Whatever the reason, the story is as much about these two men learning to respect each other as it is about the actual plot. And in the course of the book, Richard falls in love, so there's a romantic sub-plot too.The company are rehearsing Will's new comedy which has been commissioned by their patron Lord Hunsdon to be performed as part of his daughter's wedding celebrations. Cornwell gives an interesting and often amusing account of how a play would have been developed back in those days, with parts designed around the talents of the regular cast and due attention paid to flattering patrons while ensuring that no reason could be found to ban it. He shows how the powerful Puritan lobby were against theatre in principle, but that Queen Elizabeth's love of it meant they were frustrated in their desire to have it prohibited. Shakespeare's company were in the privileged position of having the Lord Chamberlain as patron, but they still had to be careful not to cross the line. Cornwell takes us not only behind the scenes in the playhouse but also into the houses of the rich who could afford private performances, and even into the presence of Elizabeth herself. I found the details of how the plays were staged fascinating, from the creation of costumes to the need for regular intervals to trim the wicks of the candles that were used to provide lighting.Cornwell also goes into detail on the story of A Midsummer's Night Dream. This is quite fun at first. It's a play I've never liked or revisited since being forced to study it while way too young to properly appreciate either the language or the comedy, so I was surprised when Cornwell sparked in me a desire to give it another try. However, unfortunately, after a while the detail becomes too much and somewhat repetitive, and it begins to feel more like a tutorial on the subject than a novel. It also slows the thing down too much – the fairly lengthy book is well over halfway before the main plot of the baddies' attempt to steal Will's plays really kicks off. Once it does though, it becomes a fine action romp. There is some violence but on the whole it remains light in tone – not nearly as graphic and gory as the only other Cornwell I've read, his Viking-world The Last Kingdom.We also get to see the religious persecution of the time – at this period, of the Catholics by the Protestants – but again Cornwell keeps it light though hinting at the darker aspects of it off-stage, so to speak. And the ever present threat of plague is there too – a threat not just to life but to the actors' livelihoods too, since any upsurge in the plague would lead to a closure of the theatres to prevent its further spread. Cornwell lets us glimpse the crueller aspects of Elizabethan entertainment too – bear-baiting, etc. All of this together adds up to what feels like a realistic picture of life in London at that period. Cornwell opts not to attempt some kind of faux Tudor language – Richard talks in standard English but has what felt to me like reasonably authentic 16th century attitudes for the most part. After a fairly slow start, then, I thoroughly enjoyed this entertaining venture into Shakespeare's world. I don't know whether this is a one-off or the start of a new series from the prolific Cornwell, but I'd certainly be happy to read another. 4½ stars for me, so rounded up.NB This book was provided for review by the publisher,

  • Adrian Deans
    2019-03-16 18:02

    When I mentioned to a literary friend that I had purchased Bernard Cornwell’s latest, he merely shrugged.‘I’ve read about ten of Cornwell’s books,’ sneered my friend, ‘but only one story. He’s always the same.’Well, I had to admit that the Sharpe books always feature a special mission, a pompous superior officer, a renegade Spanish priest or warlord and a major battle…but it’s quite indelicate to say so when he does it so well.The Saxon series also can get a tad formulaic and by the end of 1356, Thomas of Hookton had actually turned into Sharpe.Nevertheless, Bernard Cornwell is an outstanding writer who is expert at creating atmosphere and an authentic sense of time and place – which is the main attraction to historical novels – experiencing a story in a different milieu where humans act and think differently from today.And so to Fools and Mortals. It is NOT a novel from the standard Cornwell model. BC has truly stretched himself this time for the story is not set against the backdrop to a battle. It is set against the backdrop to the first performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in 1595.The main character is Richard Shakespeare – William’s younger brother – a struggling actor in the stinking and brutal London near the end of Elizabeth’s reign. Richard is a member of his brother’s theatre troupe but (despite being good) is trapped. He is too young to play a main male part but becoming too old to play a serious female part (women playing female parts was regarded as extremely offensive by the Puritan thought police of the times). Thus, he must convince his brother (who seems to despise him) to give him a serious male role or find other employment. The opportunity to find other employment suddenly comes in the form of a rival playhouse desperate for new plays. Richard is given a massive temptation and few would blame him, given his needs and the way he has been treated, but he chooses the honourable path – and that’s when the trouble really begins.It was a riveting read, but I did have one or two issues with it. The need for a lot of characters in the acting troupe inevitably rendered too many of them only partly drawn. BC is usually brilliant at making characters come alive and too many had little more than a name.The ending also (to the conflict) was a little too neat and quick, but I was able to forgive that given the story can be interpreted as analogous with the comedy of Shakespeare’s play. ‘It is a nonsense,’ says Shakespeare, ‘but a nonsense that works.’Fools and Mortals works also – a wonderful glimpse of late Elizabethan London and a classic piece of storytelling. Cornwell is the Bard of historical novel writing.

  • Roman Clodia
    2019-03-11 21:25

    A feel-good romp of a novel that bears more than a passing resemblance to Shakespeare in Love, albeit without the romance and emotional edge. Cornwell's research is sometimes worn a bit heavily ('Titania! A lovely name,' Father Laurence said, 'your brother took it from Ovid, didn't he?' 'Did he?' 'From the Metamorphoses, of course') but overall he gives a good account of what it must have been like to be a player in the mid 1590s. I enjoyed that the focus isn't so much on William but on his younger brother Richard and while the main thrust is about a performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream for Lord Hunsdon's daughter's marriage, the real story is one of Richard's emotional coming of age and the growth of understanding between the brothers. It is, of course, absurd that a 21-year-old man whose voice has broken and who needs to be shaved should be playing women's roles - I'm sure Cornwell knows perfectly well that boys stopped taking on female roles once they reached adolescence, started growing a beard and having their voices deepen, but this anomaly is necessary for the theme of masculine coming of age and brotherly coming together. A fun, light read. Thanks to HarperCollins for an ARC via NetGalley.

  • Judy Lesley
    2019-02-18 00:17

    ARC courtesy of HarperCollins and the Amazon Vine Voices program.I have seen the Shakespeare play "A Midsummer Night's Dream" performed many times on stage but I don't think I've ever enjoyed it more than when I read Bernard Cornwell's explanation of the staging in this historical fiction novel. The principal character here is Richard Shakespeare, 21, the younger brother of William who is 31 in this year of 1595. Richard ran away from home seven years previously and followed his brother to London where William had began establishing himself as a playwright. William and the other Sharers in the Theatre company are fortunate in being under the protection of Lord Hunsdon, the Lord Chamberlain, who is the cousin of Queen Elizabeth. Shakespeare has been commissioned to write a play to celebrate the upcoming wedding of Lord Hunsdon's daughter but none of this means they are free from the political and religious wrangling going on. The Pursuivants keep sniffing around hoping to find evidence of the actors hiding priests or objects used to celebrate a Catholic mass. Now the word sedition is being whispered about someone in the acting troup and Richard seems to be the target of suspicion.I didn't have any idea what to expect from this Bernard Cornwell novel. I had thought it would be a mystery but now know that it is not truly in the mystery category at all. Instead this is a wonderful opportunity to learn about William Shakespeare and the masterworks he created during this most difficult time period. The historical circumstances are threaded throughout this novel in such a way that you have to consciously seek them out before you realize you are being given facts. Mr. Cornwell is a master at making history come alive. The comedic aspects of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" positively shine through in this author's explanation of the staging. In this story Richard Shakespeare wanted so desperately to leave behind his performances of women's roles with a move into a role for a man. With Midsummer he got his wish.......or did he? Many of the Shakespeare plays are prominent in this novel, even a new play being written about two star-crossed lovers from a town in Italy.Some of my enthusiasm for this novel may stem from my life long appreciation and involvement in theatre. If you love historical fiction, if you love Shakespeare's plays, or if you love the world of the theatre this novel will be an opportunity for you to shut the modern world away for a time and just enjoy yourself.

  • Stephen
    2019-02-25 20:59

    this book is a move away from what he normally writes about and felt it was missing something, was slow to get going with the plot. the story itself based in late 16th century southwark with Richard shakespeare ( the brother of william) and the setting of the play midsummer's night dream.

  • Cynthia
    2019-03-11 21:29

    Cornwell makes the story of how Shakespeare created and first performed his “A Midsummer’s Night Dream. It has a realyou are there feel...the times, how people lived especially actors or players as they were then called. The main character is Shakespeare’s younger brother Richard and the relationship between them. Richard is ten years younger than William and fairly new to London and the theater scene and though new he’s already lived a lot both good and bad but most importantly he’s gained some important acting chops. It was tradition at the time for men and young boys to play the female parts because women in the acting were considered loose women. In fact a lot of the action was about 5he sway Puritan’s were powerful at the time, a time when Protestantism was still young and Queen Elizabeth worried about being dethroned by the Catholic faction.Cornwell’s writing flows and the book moves quickly and enjoyably. Despite the large amount of writing Cornwell’s done this won’t be the last book of his I’ll be reading. Thank you to the publisher’s for providing an advance reader’s copy.

  • Susan Johnson
    2019-03-16 00:27

    William Shakespeare is back on center stage with the new TV show, "Will", about his early life in London. This book is about his younger brother, Richard, who is a struggling actor in his brother's acting troupe. Richard is young, better looking that Will and a pain in his older brother's side. Struggling on his meager actor's pay, he takes to petty thieving to help support himself.Richard plays the women's roles but desperately wants to graduate to male roles and even grow a beard. Unfortunately for him there are fewer actors that can play the female roles so his brother somewhat selfishly keeps him in that niche. There is a great deal of animosity on William's side and I am unclear as to why. When Richard first comes to London desperate, Will does not really help him and, in fact, puts him into a very bad situation. This animosity plays a big role in the story.The story takes place during the time "A Midsummer Night's Dream" is currently under production to be performed at a lavish wedding where the Queen might even be in attendance. Will is burning the midnight oil and writing "Romeo and Juliet" and Richard is doing his very best to get a male role in anything. Will caves in a twist that is laugh out loud funny.Cornwell's best ability is to put a reader into the middle of the story and his creation of sense of place is outstanding. In his wonderful Saxon series, I feel like I have been in battle behind a shield wall. This shines through in this story too as I felt I was walking the streets in 1595. It's his attention to the smallest detail that brings the place alive. From disposing of human waste to the bear and dog fights, I felt like I was there. I learned so much about the theater world and the attention to details is amazing from how they bled on stage, to the wigs and how they were made and how the plays were even copied.My only quibble is there is not much of a plot but the journey through the times and the theater's beginning was so worth the time.

  • Mary Yarde
    2019-03-17 22:59

    “Lord, what fools these mortals be…” Running away from Stratford-Upon-Avon seemed like a sensible thing to do at the time. Richard Shakespeare was sure that his eldest brother, William, would be glad to see him. Alas, that was not the case. But he was here now. There was nothing William could do about that. Following in his brother's footsteps, Richard becomes a player as well as the occasional thief.As the years roll on, Richard Shakespeare becomes more and more discouraged. He is way past the age of playing the girl parts in his brother’s plays, but William insists that he play them. When William finally casts Richard in his first male role, Richard is overjoyed. But this was William they were talking about, Richard should have known there would be a catch. Now Richard has a decision to make, should he stay with the Lord Chamberlain's men, or should he leave them to join Langley and his new impressive theatre, The Swan?Rich with historical detail and with characters that leap off the page, Fools and Mortals by Bernard Cornwell is a must for all fans of Shakespeare and the Elizabethan era.The story is told from Richard Shakespeare perspective, and therefore it does not portray William in such a great light. Fans of William Shakespeare be warned! The story itself is very fast in the telling, and it was so gripping that I read this book in a day and I have to say that I enjoyed every minute of it.Fools and Mortals reminded me greatly of the 1998 period costume drama Shakespeare in Love. There was the same feel to it, except the play in the spotlight this time is A Midsummer Nights Dream.Mr. Cornwell depicts in great detail what it may well have been like to be a player in Elizabethan England. It was very believable and very real in the telling. Kudos Mr. Cornwell!The story itself is full of intrigue and plots between the rival playhouses. There is, of course, the ever-present threat of the zealous Protestants who wanted to see the playhouses close for good. There is also a sweet romance.The Last Kingdom it is not, but for fans of Shakespeare, and the Elizabethan era it is a must read.I Highly Recommend.*I received a copy of this book from the publishers, via Netgalley, for review consideration.”

  • Kate Vane
    2019-03-17 21:08

    I haven’t read any Bernard Cornwell before. I like social and political history while his novels appear to be more about battles and action. However, Fools and Mortals really appealed because of the setting in the Elizabethan theatre.In Fools and Mortals, Richard Shakespeare has run away to London and is cramping his big brother’s style. William Shakespeare is a sharer (shareholder) in a theatre and an established writer and actor. Richard is an annoying teenager (and he’s better looking). Richard is working in the theatre but he is no longer pretty enough to be the female lead and is playing dowagers. Richard is also poor while his brother is doing rather well. He wants to become a man – on and off stage – and with an important play for the Lord Chancellor coming up, he hopes to have his chance.This is a great fun book, packed with atmosphere and humour and flamboyant characters. It is rich in detail about the birth of the theatre as we know it today, the creative process, the skills of the actors, the very oddness of having a day job where all you do is pretend. There is the warmth, the rivalry and the players’ ambiguous social status – performing for royalty but still struggling to pay the rent.The book maintains this light tone without ducking darker issues – the brutality of executions, the poor treatment of child apprentices, persecution by the Pursuivants (the anti-Catholic enforcers known as the ‘Percies’).I particularly like the subtle portrayal of the relationship between the brothers. Richard inevitably sees himself as hard done by, but we see the ambiguities of Will’s behaviour. He is brusque, mocking and apparently dismissive but he is also giving Richard chances to shine and grow.The only thing which marred the book for me was a lack of editing. There’s a lot of repetition and the resolution, featuring the performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, is too long, overstuffed with exposition which has already been covered in the rehearsal scenes.Worse, about a third of the way through the novel, Richard is thrown into turmoil when he receives a shocking offer and has to decide where his loyalties lie. This should be a crucial turning-point, but Richard has apparently forgotten that the offer was already outlined to him three chapters earlier. (At this point I would have thrown the book across the room if it weren’t on my Kindle.)However, leaving aside these flaws it’s a playful, engaging read and has made me think again about reading Cornwell’s other books.*I received a copy of Fools and Mortals from the publisher via Netgalley.This review first appeared on my blog

  • Lola Et La Vie
    2019-03-04 18:19

    (2nd half is a close a 4-star!)A story told from the point of view of Richard Shakespeare, brother to playwright William, who is part of a group of players who stage plays at The Theatre.Richard, our narrator, was very likable as a young man who wants to be taken seriously by his older brother and as a player. The tale is well written, and Cornwell manages to bring 16th century London to life. And yet I did not love this book as much was I wanted to. I definitely enjoyed the second half of the book more than the first. The plot was ok, but it did not quite grab me. I did enjoy the book, but I simply felt that something was missing.Overall, this is very well researched and crafted book that most historical fiction lovers will enjoy.*Read as an ARC courtesy of NetGalley & the publisher*

  • Yvonne
    2019-03-16 17:15

    Set in Elizabethan England, at a time when static playhouses are still in their infancy, as the days of players touring the country will gradually decline. The story focuses on one playhouse and it’s players known as the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. It is here where the reader in introduced to Richard, a small time actor who has followed his estranged brother to London. His brother is the script writer William Shakespeare and scripts are becoming a valuable commodity. Because the audiences are now going to the playhouse then there is a need for more plays. It is at this time that William is creating A Midsummer Nights’ Dream and also Romeo and Juliet.Richard is where the focus of this story lies, we are told why and how he decided to follow his older brother to London as well as his experiences of acting, living and social conditions This is at a time when the playhouses are being targeted by the Pursuivants, who have the belief that what they the players do is all a lie, cheat and are generally considered to be rogues and criminals, luckily for us Queen Elizabeth and other notable aristocracy of the time were big supporters and so we have access to theatres today.This is a really good read with a lot of historical research. Cornwell is well-known for his historical fiction books, they tend to be more battle based. This is a shift away from that style, this is has a real different feel to his previous works. It is lighter and entertaining, but still shows the huge amount of research as his other books. There are many characters to get to know, but once that is done the story becomes very addictive and a page turner.Cromwell has included a very interesting “Historical Notes” addition at the end of the book, here he discusses the origins of the playhouse as well as the historical figure he has used in the story.If like me you like historical fiction genres, then this is a book I would recommend. It has a great cast of characters, that will lead the reader through jealous rivalries, romance, betrayal as well as having some great historical content. I would like to thank NetGalley and Harper Collins for my eARC copy of this book. My views expressed are my own and are unbiased.

  • Cheryl M-M
    2019-02-22 17:02

    Kudos to Cornwell for giving the works of Shakespeare their dues, especially A Midsummer Night’s Dream. He dissects the piece, as if it were the hottest new reality-soap in town. Leaving the historical references and importance of Shakespeare’s work aside for a moment, what remains are emotional roller-coasters for the masses. Shakespeare gives us drama, laughter, tears,violence and death. His plays were live television.Cornwell is an excellent storyteller. The reader becomes so transfixed by the unfolding drama, and drawn in by the strong characters, that you almost forget everything is taking place in the Elizabethan era.The story is about William and Richard Shakespeare, and their sibling rivalry. At the same time it is also about the existing rivalries between the various playhouses. An original play or new script is worth its weight in gold. People will pay good money to watch a new play being performed. It’s quite interesting to note how many new scripts playwrights had to come up with in such a short period of time to entertain not only the masses, but also the upper echelon of society, including the queen.Richard struggles with the fact his brother seems to see him either as a hindrance or a complete failure. He wants acknowledgement of his talent and perhaps even an apology for being handed to the wolves by his brother. At the moment he is always automatically picked to play the role of the pretty woman, because he is known for his striking looks. The kind of appealing physical appearance that tends to be noticed by the wrong people.I really enjoyed it. I was expecting a story filled with heavy historical references. Instead it is a witty light-hearted entertaining read, which still manages to portray the hardships, the danger, the paranoia and the fear in that particular era, and the way of life in London.Cornwell combines his talent for historical fiction with his concise knowledge of Shakespeare, which of course makes this a double-treat for bookworms with a penchant for both history and the works of the bard.*I received an ARC courtesy of Harper Collins Uk via NetGalley.*

  • Diana Long
    2019-02-22 17:24

    Welcome to the War of the Theaters...Bernard Cornwell style. Perhaps it's not the actual main event that history mentions but it is a very close re-creation of the history of the theater and the competitiveness between the different houses to obtain the most patrons and audiences..where money is to be made the stakes are high. In this work the author gives the reader Richard Shakespeare, yes the younger brother of famous William Shakespeare as the narrator of the story and the main protagonist. Through his eyes we see behind the scenes of the lives and turmoil which existed when choosing this type of life. The scenes are highly descriptive and I am ecstatic not only with the characters, costumes and venues but the total immersion into life in 16th century Elizabethan England. I thought it a brilliant piece of writing, well researched and the banter between the characters, sometimes witty, occasionally intense and often romantic is delightful. I always feel entertained when reading or listening to a work by this author, he writes some of the best lines spoken by characters and his scenes be it a battlefield scene or an intimate moment draws the reader in. At the end of the story Bernard Cornwell has included several pages of author's notes do not skip these they are informative and worth reading.

  • Kathy
    2019-03-05 21:29

    This book is a celebration of Shakespeare. Rather than center on William and his struggles to keep writing plays and finding ways to ensure they were performed it is told by way of a fictional account of his much younger brother Richard, a player in this telling. It is a wonder that we have any of the plays preserved, and many of the challenges and difficulties are points of conflict in this book rich with the difficulties of finding enough money to keep going over and above the costs of shelter and food. Richard makes a sympathetic figure and reading this reminds one to be grateful for the simple things.This was presented as a play in Charleston, SC this month, and I wish I could have been there!

  • Pete
    2019-02-26 19:22

    The master storytelling of Bernard Cornwell mixed with the intrigue of Elizabethan England & in particular the world of Shakespeare. How could it fail?Loved the way the 'Theatre' of the day is explained as the story goes on & the way that 'A Midsummer Nights Dream' is worked in to the story.Defiantly for followers of Cornwell & hopefully, like me, fans of the Bard.