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Fools and Mortals

3.78  ·  Rating details ·  4,775 ratings  ·  802 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 Midsummers Night Dreamas related by William Shakespeares estranged younger brother

Lord, what fools these mortals be . . .

In the heart of Elizabethan England, Richard Shakespeare dreams of a
Hardcover, 371 pages
Published January 9th 2018 by Harper (first published October 19th 2017)
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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…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  ·  review of another edition
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
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  ·  review of another edition
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
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
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  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Dec 23, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
3.5 stars was my original rating, but having reviewed it now, I realise I got a lot from the history so Im rounding up to a full 4 stars.

Im not sure that staunch fans of Bernard Cornwell would love this. I have loved some of his work but overall its 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. Theres
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. Its a bit of a conflict of emotions but I cant highly rate a novel on setting and theme alone.

For my full review, visit me at
Feb 05, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Lucy Banks
Oct 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
A hugely enjoyable, almost entirely fictitious, romp through Shakespearean England narrated by Richard, Wills brother. The plays are brought to life by Richards 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. Were told several times, for example, how ceruse mixed with crushed pearls makes the skin white and shimmering. Thats probably being a bit picky though ...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 Cornwells 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 Cornwells 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 Shakespeare ...more
Nov 12, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

If youd 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
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 Williams 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
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 and
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 Dreamas related by
Adrian Deans
Jan 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
When I mentioned to a literary friend that I had purchased Bernard Cornwells latest, he merely shrugged.

Ive read about ten of Cornwells books, sneered my friend, but only one story. Hes 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 battlebut its 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
Roman Clodia
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
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
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
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
Nov 10, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Cornwell makes the story of how Shakespeare created and first performed his A Midsummers 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 Shakespeares 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 hes already lived a lot both good and bad but most importantly hes gained some
Mar 19, 2018 marked it as dnf  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: historical
DNF at 17%

7 days of reading and I read only 50 pages. Im huge fan of Bernard Cornwell but I couldnt 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  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"When men do evil and claim that they are doing God's work, then they are at their most dangerous."

This novel by Bernard Cornwell is a bit of a departure from his usual military history. Yes, its an historical novel, but instead it centres on William Shakespeare's initial production of A Midsummer Nights Dream and is told from the standpoint of his younger brother, Richard. Little is known about William Shakespeare, about his writing and staging his plays, let alone whether or not he even had a
Jun 05, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Mar 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Originally published at Reading Reality

If the title sounds familiar, it should. Its a bit of one of the many famous lines from Shakespeares A Midsummer Nights Dream, Lord, what fools these mortals be! It is apropos for this book in multiple ways.

This is a story about the writing of, the stealing of, and the first performance of one of Shakespeares most famous plays. And the mortals within the story, and not just within the play, are certainly fools, but only in the sense that all humans are
Curtis Edmonds
Apr 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
For better or for worse, there were no chain pancake restaurants in Elizabethan England, and there is no comparable database of the sights and sounds and landmarks of Elizabethan London, which means that we are deeply indebted to writers with imagination and the ability to describe the elements of a culture long past. (In contrast, future writers seeking to write about this time period will doubtless have a surfeit of such information; the mind reels.) Bernard Cornwells new novel is chock-full ...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 ...more

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“Silence. We like it when an audience is silent, when no one coughs, no one shuffles, no one cracks a nut, or uncorks an ale bottle with a sudden hiss. Silence means the play is working, and we have the audience in our power. To a player, that breathless silence is better than applause, and that morning in the great hall my audience was silent.” 4 likes
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