Title: Fools and Mortals by Bernard Cornwell
Publisher: Harper January 2018, 385 pp
Genre: literature, literary fiction, fiction, historical fiction, English mystery
5 stars. Highly recommended
Author: Bernard Cornwell is a prolific writer of over 50 novels, including the Sharpe Series (21 episodes with Sean Bean), The Last Kingdom (10 books, Netflix). There is always a skillful blend of history, intrigue and witty dialogue. His writing is superb, well researched and richly detailed. He is an enthusiastic amateur dramatist, which shows in the accurate portrayal of actors’ rivalries, theatre competition, and fierce ambition. This telling brought Shakespeare, his troupe and Elizabethan London to light. I would love a sequel, although this is a stand alone novel.The telling is a credit to the Bard.
Story: Richard Shakespeare, younger brother, is a penniless actor, of pretty face and female roles, who wants to establish himself as a serious professional (e.g. male actor). Playing females doesn’t pay as well (even then, even as a man), but rival egos, a glut of actors and vying theatres prevent upward mobility. Opportunities arise with a new production, a chance romance, and the need to clear his name with stolen manuscripts (midsummer’s night dream and Romeo and Juliet). Sibling rivalry, cutthroat theatre rivalry (pre Globe, 1500 seats, 30plays a year), Puritan hostilities, are intricately woven into a tight fascinating character driven story. Thankfully Queen Elizabeth liked plays, especially Shakespeare’s.
If you like Hilary Mantel Wolffe Hall, Robert Nye Mrs Shakespeare
Don’t miss Peter Ackroyd’s Shakespeare histories.
Rochester Public Library has ebook, audiobook and hardcover.
I went out into the yard where rain seethed on the cobbles, and I stood under the shelter of a wooden arcade that ran like a cheap cloister about the courtyards edge. I shivered. Winter was coming.
I was good. I knew I was good. And I wanted to be good because to perform well was one way to avoid Sir Godfrey’s savage beatings, or the whippings administered by his two ushers.
….audiences clamored to hear the play. And across the wintry river men were planning to steal it from us.
We were the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. And no one pissed on our stage.
Aye, but we would be nothing without the words.