Fools and Mortals by Bernard Cornwell

‘Fools and Mortals’ is a novel set around the theatre in 1595. The main character of the story is Richard Shakespeare, younger brother of William.

When the young Richard ran away from his Stratford home to join his older brother William in London, William was not thrilled. William was already gaining success as a player and writer and placed his younger brother into St Benet’s choir school to learn some acting skills. But the school was run by Sir Godfrey Cullen who preyed on the boys in his charge, pimped them out and got them to steal for him.

When Richard finally joined William’s theatre company, he was continually given female roles. Richard just wanted to be taken seriously.

The story is set around the rehearsals for the first performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, written for the wedding of the Lord Chamberlain’s daughter.

It is fortunate that Queen Elizabeth enjoyed and supported the theatre, because the puritans hated it and without the Queen’s support we would not have the plays of Shakespeare today.

But even with royal patronage, not everything goes smoothly for the group of players. There are a number of rival theatre companies in London and a shortage of writers. This leads to betrayal and theft of plays. And always there is the threat of the puritans raiding the theatres for no good reason.

This is a story of Richard growing up and finally gaining the respect of his famous older brother William.


I’m not too sure about this novel. The development of theatre is interesting enough but I much prefer Cornwell’s amazing battle scenes and I would prefer to be following Uhtred and the creation of England.

Richard as the main character was not someone I really warmed to, so I couldn’t get too excited about his challenges and achievements. I did enjoy learning more about William and the writing of the plays. I wonder how many more plays there were that didn’t survive.

I’m hoping that Bernard Cornwell takes us back to Uhtred for his next novel.


Published 2017


See a full list of books by Bernard Cornwell

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