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Fools and Mortals

3.78  ·  Rating details ·  5,152 ratings  ·  856 reviews
New York Times bestselling author Bernard Cornwell makes a dramatic departure with this enthralling, action-packed standalone novel that tells the story of the first production of A Midsummer’s Night Dream—as related by William Shakespeare’s estranged younger brother

Lord, what fools these mortals be . . .

In the heart of Elizabethan England, Richard Shakespeare dreams of a
Hardcover, 384 pages
Published October 19th 2017 by HarperCollins
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Philip Higgins Having just read the book, I think this will definitely be a one-off. I'd read another novel with these characters, set in this period, but would rath…moreHaving just read the book, I think this will definitely be a one-off. I'd read another novel with these characters, set in this period, but would rather see Bernard return to the familar bloodsoaked ground of Uhtred, Sharpe or Starbuck.(less)

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Average rating 3.78  · 
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Oct 13, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: netgalley
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
Sep 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Sep 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: netgalley
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 ...more
Emily May
Sep 21, 2017 rated it it was ok
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
Oct 18, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: historical, edelweiss
UPDATE: Just got an eReaderIQ alert this is $2.99 in the US Kindle Store. 100% worth it.

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
Apr 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
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
Dannii Elle
Sep 30, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
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
Aug 30, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
For my full review, visit me at

Cornwell has written a lot of books and this is my first “date” with him! I was enchanted by the Elizabethan setting and enticed by the Shakespeare theme. And this is what I enjoyed the most about this story. On the other hand, I found the characters confusing and the actual plot a bit dull. It’s a bit of a conflict of emotions but I can’t highly rate a novel on setting and theme alone.

For my full review, visit me at https:/
Lucy Banks
Oct 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
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
Feb 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
Fools and Mortals is a definite change of pace novel for Mr. Cornwell. There are no great battle scenes, either in a dark age Shield Wall or a 19th Century battle line. There is also no great overarching theme, ie the creation of a unified England in the 9th and 10th centuries or the defeat of Napoleon in the early 19th century. This novel is a look at how modern theater developed in the late 16th century during Elizabeth I reign.

Mr. Cornwell puts the reader into the workings of William Shakespe
Nov 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Bam cooks the books ;-)
"Lord, what fools these mortals be." A Midsummer Night's Dream, Act 3, Scene 2

With 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
Joy D
I came to read this book by starting and setting aside another of Bernard Cornwell’s books, 1356, which includes a plethora of blood-soaked action in the first few chapters, including rape, torture, murder, and castration. It was too much even for me and I can handle a good amount of bloodshed. I was, however, impressed by Cornwell’s writing so I sought out another, less gory, of his books. Fools and Mortals takes place in 1595 and is based on the imagined relationship between William Shakespear ...more
Nov 12, 2017 rated it really liked it

If 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
Feb 12, 2018 rated it liked it
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 Eliza
Lisa Wolf
A fascinating 5-star read!

Fools and Mortals is a story about William Shakespeare’s acting troupe at the Theatre in London, told through the perspective of his younger brother Richard. Richard ran away from home in Stratford as a young teen to escape a cruel apprenticeship, but his brother isn’t exactly warm and welcoming.

A very lovely-looking young man, by age 21 Richard has spent years as a player at the Theatre, although not a full member (Sharer) with a stake in the earnings. When he performs
May 31, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I adore A Midsummer Night's Dream and loved that this book was so heavily focused around its first performance.

However, the pretty blatant homophobia (always expressed by *characters* though) and rejection of anything androgynous or feminine in oneself were annoying, as was the spotty characterization which raised several serious questions about Shakespeare's character that were never dealt with satisfactorily.

I was particularly horrified by how harshly one of the "villains" (here just an oppo
Charles  van Buren
Jan 11, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The times and adventures of Shakespeare's younger brother

The title of a review posted on Amazon is, "Sharpe and Uhtred it Ain't". If you are looking for a story of that sort, you should most definitely look elsewhere. The book's description itself makes it clear, "New York Times bestselling author Bernard Cornwell MAKES A DRAMATIC DEPARTURE ( my caps) with this enthralling, action-packed standalone novel that tells the story of the first production of A Midsummer Night's Dream—as related by Will
Nov 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 an
Adrian Deans
Jan 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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,
Roman Clodia
Sep 29, 2017 rated it liked it
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 youn
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 fi
Mar 24, 2018 rated it liked it
I feel bad (a little bit anyway) for giving this only three stars, but this was one of those books where I was only mildly entertained. I loved the subtle humor, but this dragged in places. Then I'd like it again, then it would drag and on it went. I appreciated the humor the most. The author also did a great job in defining the characters. Both of these things I have come to expect from Bernard. I'm just not sure I really liked this one, so 3 stars.
Judy Lesley
Dec 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
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 Londo
Nov 10, 2017 rated it really liked it
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
Mar 19, 2018 marked it as dnf
Shelves: historical
DNF at 17%

7 days of reading and I read only 50 pages. I’m huge fan of Bernard Cornwell but I couldn’t get into this book and found it incredibly boring. Fortunately, I have a copy from library so I can simply return it without feeling guilty about not finishing it.

If you want to try something by this amazing author, definitely do not start with this book. Rather go for his The Last Kingdom series or The Arthur Books series. I highly recommend those!
Carole P. Roman
Dec 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Loved this book. Bernard Cornwell changes gears and writes a thrilling novel about the birth of theatres in Elizabethan England. Realistic and with great detail, the reader is flung back in time to see, hear, and smell sixteen century London through the eyes of Richard Shakespeare, William's younger brother.
A failed carpenter's apprentice he escapes the poverty of home to run away to throw himself on his older and more successful brother. The busy playwright sticks his sibling with an unscrupulo
May 24, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Bernard Cornwell is surely the master of the historical novel. I first discovered him with Richard Sharpe and the Napoleonic Wars. He goes a little further back in history with this one. And, instead of soldiers, we are immersed in the world of actors in Elizabethan England.

The danger of living (and especially worshipping) in Elizabetha England pervades as does the day-to-day running of the early theater. I really enjoyed this novel and the peek at people like William Shakespeare and his players
Jun 05, 2019 rated it liked it
Ladies and gentlemen, I ask forgiveness for having delayed the deadline agreed with the users of Goodreads who yesterday engaged the writing of this criticism. With all yesterday was not a day, because I was documenting me to write this review of "fools and mortals". I must tell you, that they worry not because this criticism will not be as long as the of the "code Da Vinci". I have to be honest I don't have much appreciation to Bernard Cornwell. I think, that Cornwell is the reflection of curre ...more
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Cornwell was born in London in 1944. His father was a Canadian airman, and his mother, who was English, a member of the Women's Auxiliary Air Force. He was adopted and brought up in Essex by the Wiggins family, who were members of the Peculiar People, a strict Protestant sect who banned frivolity of all kinds and even medicine. After he left them, he changed his name to his birth mother's maiden n ...more

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