Fools and Mortals by Bernard Cornwell

Fools and Mortals

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 th...

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Fools and Mortals Reviews

  • Ace

    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 decen

    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.

  • Emily May

    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

    trilogy, I was longing for some more historical fiction.

    Glancing around reviews, I see that this is outside of the author's usual comfort zone, making me think I should maybe try

    or

    instead. I cannot

    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

    trilogy, I was longing for some more historical fiction.

    Glancing around reviews, I see that this is outside of the author's usual comfort zone, making me think I should maybe try

    or

    instead. I cannot say for sure whether I was just really uninterested in the subject matter of

    - 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.

    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

    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".

    with “Show us your tits, ladies,” being pretty much the worst of it. Much of the story is a

    , 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.

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  • Paromjit

    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

    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.

  • A Bald Mage** Steve

    Bald Mage Rating 8.5/10

    I 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 S

    Bald Mage Rating 8.5/10

    I 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 :)

  • Emma

    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

    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:

    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

  • Dannii Elle

    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 h

    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.

  • Maureen

    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 sh

    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

    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. Ther

    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

    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 you

    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

    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

    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.

  • Fiona

    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 th

    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.

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