Fools and Mortals by Bernard Cornwell

Reviewed by Teri Davis

Fools and MortalsAre all mortals foolish? In Shakespeare’s play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the character Puck is quoted as saying, “Lord, what fools these mortals be!”

Yes, we have all done innumerable foolish things in our past. William Shakespeare revealed the true nature and foolishness of people of his time period through his keen eyes of observation. Whether death, romance, love, stupidity somehow he was able to develop his characters into real people in his comedies or tragedies. Even though Shakespeare wrote years ago, the time and place is different, but people are still the same. Surprisingly, even though the setting is different from four-hundred years ago.

Bernard Cornwell also wondered about the brilliant author, William Shakespeare. In Fools and Mortals, Cornwell explores the world of theater in London with Shakespeare during the late 1500s. The story is told through the perspective of William’s younger brother, Richard, who is an actor in his brother’s company.

Unlike Cornwell’s other books, Fools and Mortals reveals the backstage theatrical world of William Shakespeare. He is the writer and partial owner of his numerous, well-respected plays favored by Queen Elizabeth.

Since Richard was ten-years younger than his brother William, the brothers were not close. Richard ran away from him due to his father’s brutality and arriving in London required additional financial obligations for the writer.

Fools and Mortals excels in allowing the reader a sense of time and place. In Shakespeare’s time, the printing press was not available to him. The scripts were copied by hand. The complete script was prized with often only one complete copy. The actor’s script consisted only of their own lines. These scripts were hidden from rival theatrical companies in the hopes that they would not be stolen.

Fools and Mortals are very different from Cornwell’s other books which consist of historical battles and struggles for power. This particular book does have some battles, but most of them are on stage or in small fighting situations.

Bernard Cornwell is a masterful storyteller. He specializes in historical fiction utilizing the well-known and little-known facts about the people, time, place as well as the accepted results and actions weaving into a memorable, logical and readable and thrilling stories based on facts. He has numerous stand alone and series of historical tales, including his The Saxon Tales with ten novels, The Sharpe Novels with twenty-one novels, The Grail Quest Series with three, The Nathaniel Starbucks Chronicles with four, The Warlord Chronicles with three, The Sailing Thrillers with four and one non-fiction book, Waterloo. I highly recommend to read the series books in order.

Fools and Mortals is exceptional reading. The little known life of the theater at the time made me feel that I was actually witnessing the stress of being part of the theatrical world.

To all readers, I found myself wanting to watch a production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” again. After Fools and Mortals, I feel that now I understand Shakespeare’s writing and enjoy it much more for the humor and the capture of real personalities.

Maybe you are not a Shakespeare fan, after reading Fools and Mortals, you will feel as if you want to embrace every play and poem written by the master and described by the masterful story teller, Bernard Cornwell.