Fools and Mortals
Date Published19 April 2018
Price£ 8.99

Fools and Mortals

by Bernard Cornwell

Richard Shakespeare, brother of William, longs to play male parts in the theatre. He turns down the offer of advancement in a new company who want him to steal his brother’s new play, and as a result becomes the object of suspect, arrest and betrayal.


Richard Shakespeare, ten years younger than his playwright brother, is getting too old to play girls on stage and longs to have significant male roles. His playwright brother is unsympathetic and treats him with disdain. Richard is concerned that he will need to leave the theatre company in order to progress and so he visits the Swan, a new, large theatre that is being built to rival the theatre where Shakespeare’s company is based. Richard is offered male parts, but only if he is willing to steal his brother’s new play. As a result, he becomes an object of distrust from all parties, and his life is at risk

Bernard Cornwell paints a detailed, multi-layered and multi-sensory image of Elizabethan London. His sense of place and time is faultless. The minutiae of the details of life in the late 16th century are fascinating. I particularly enjoy reading about this period and about Shakespeare, both in fiction and fact, and I anticipated this novel book with great excitement – and it far surpassed my expectations.

Don't expect a complex, intimate plot, but do expect to be totally absorbed in the minds of the Elizabethan Londoners. Expect to gain a detailed understanding of the role the theatre played in the culture of the time and how its fate is caught up in the rivalry between the established church and the rising power of the puritans. Experience the casual attitude to cruelty, the relatively low value placed on life, and the attitudes to morality and honour of the time

Overriding the plot is the story of Shakespeare’s writing of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Cornwell provides a reason for the writing of the play, describes the way that it was performed, how stagecraft of the time allowed for special effects and how the play was presented in a stately home to an audience, including good Queen Bess herself. This is all fictional but clearly based on accurate research and presented with consummate skill.

Buy this book and savour the opportunity to lose yourself in Shakespeare’s London.

Reviewed 14 April 2018 by John Barnbrook