Fools and Mortals

Fools and Mortals

A Novel

Book - 2018
Average Rating:
Rate this:
In the heart of Elizabethan England, Richard Shakespeare dreams of a glittering career in one of the London playhouses, a world dominated by his older brother, William. But he is a penniless actor, making ends meet through a combination of a beautiful face, petty theft and a silver tongue. As William's star rises, Richard's onetime gratitude is souring and he is sorely tempted to abandon family loyalty. So when a priceless manuscript goes missing, suspicion falls upon Richard, forcing him onto a perilous path through a bawdy and frequently brutal London. Entangled in a high-stakes game of duplicity and betrayal which threatens not only his career and potential fortune, but also the lives of his fellow players, Richard has to call on all he has now learned from the brightest stages and the darkest alleyways of the city. To avoid the gallows, he must play the part of a lifetime.
Publisher: New York, NY : Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2018
Edition: First U.S. edition
ISBN: 9780062250872
Branch Call Number: FICTION Cor
Description: 370 pages : illustration, map ; 24 cm


From Library Staff

Richard has always dreamed of a career like that of his older brother, William Shakespeare. But, he is a penniless actor and estranged from his popular playwrighting sibling. When a priceless manuscript goes missing, Richard is blamed. To avoid death, he must find the missing play before it's too... Read More »

From the critics

Community Activity


Add a Comment
Sep 14, 2020

Thoroughly enjoyed!!! If you'd like to read more about our young hero Shakespeare I would highly recommend Benet Brandreth's "The Spy of Venice" & "The Assassin of Verona".

Aug 22, 2019

The very popular historical fiction writer has a veritable treat in store, moving to Elizabethan England for a play "to ease the anguish of a torturing hour." His characteristic attention to detail brings the Shakespearean stage to life, with all its elevation of the very English language, and in the midst of the squalor and pervasive, casual violence of London. Cornwall captures the accents of the language better than almost anyone (including the rampant undertone of piercing insult), enrobed in luscious detail of fashionable dress, court intrigue, and the mechanics (Mechanicals?) of operating a Playhouse. Glittering above his narrative are deep overtones of Shakespeare's plot itself, and even a sweet romantic sub-plot ("Who is Sylvia?")...

Feb 22, 2019

I really enjoyed this. I appreciated the detail—it made you feel like you were there—and I enjoyed the characters and the problems they faced. For me, it was an adventure, from beginning to end.

Dec 22, 2018

It’s a shame that other readers of this book have found it boring. But as a reader of, what I think is virtually everything Cornwell has written, I’m afraid I’ve got to agree with their verdict. Previously, Cornwell’s swashbuckling novels had been jam packed with adventure: think Sharp in that series of adventures set in the Napoleonic wars; think of his novels set in England of the seventh century; think of Agincourt; my favourite Cornwell. Historical fiction one and all. And while Fools too is historical fiction set in Elizabethan England, this novel represents a 180 degree from what he usually writes about. And while Cornwell does a good job liming his protagonist, better than most of his previous novels, this probably will not be the novel that sinks its terrier fangs into you without relenting till the very last word.
As for me, it too hoped with patience till I got to the point of no return with Fools and Mortals; to where I had to keep reading.
Not well received and disappointing. This must be Cornwell’s attempt at something else. Maybe he’s gotten tired of buckling swash.
Too bad.

Dec 04, 2018

Why is it no surprise that Cornwell's usual readers, addicts of action and violence, would be so bored by this? In places this is really good at fleshing out the historical context of Shakespeare's plays even suggesting why they're so good. On the other hand so much of this is a paraphrase of the plays being performed (chiefly A Midsummer's Night Dream) and even if it's necessary because Cornwell can't take it for granted his readers are familiar with Shakespeare's plays, it's not compelling fiction.

May 21, 2018

I really enjoyed reading this novel. It is well researched and offers a very interesting and plausible description of what happened in Elizabethan playhouses before, during, and after a rehearsal. The story is set in 1595, in London. Shakespeare and his company, the Lord Chamberlain's Men, are getting ready to perform" A Midsummer Night's Dream" for the wedding of the Chamberlain's granddaughter. Beside this comedy, the Bard is also writing a new play, the immortal "Romeo and Juliet." The company rehearses in the Hunsdon Mansion and all seems to go well, until the manuscripts of the two works disappear and it will be Richard Shakespeare's task to retrieve them, if he wants to gain the esteem of his more famous brother. This is the main plot, made even more interesting by the different characters (some real some invented): the actors, from Will Kemp to Richard Burbage; the aristocracy; the Pursuivants (Puritan fanatics and sworn enemies of the theatre); the servants, the innkeepers, the bargemen whose simple everyday life is described with humor and details. Beside the historical research, I also particularly liked that Cornwell doesn't even for a second hint to the possibility that someone other than Shakespeare wrote his plays. He doesn't waste his and our time on those ridiculous theories. I read this novel in a couple of days because, once I started, I could not put it down and I strongly recommend it, whether you are interested in Elizabethan drama or not.

Mar 04, 2018

My first book by this author. What I enjoyed most was feeling like I was backstage with the actors in London during Shakespeare's time. Learning about early theater was fascinating. Support by the queen and disgust from the Puritans.

Mar 02, 2018

I am a big Cornwell fan and was highly anticipating this release, sadly it was a disappointment. A departure from his action series of novels, but I could have lived with that with a good plot and character development. This had neither. That being said, if you are a Shakespeare fan you may enjoy this a lot. There is a lot of line by line quote from plays written by Shakespeare, if I wanted that, I would have just reread Romeo & Juliet, or one of the other plays he quoted extensively, I found it boring and needless. There was potential, but it fell short.

ser_library Feb 16, 2018

wonderful period detail--felt as if i were there

Jan 25, 2018

I too am a big Bernard Cornwell fan. FOOLS AND MORTALS is certainly different from his other books of historical fiction which often focus on wars in days gone by long ago. But only different in that it focuses on the early days of the development of static theaters and the rise of the great playwrights - we are talking 1595 as the setting for this story. It does not have the level of action of his war-related historical novels, but it does have an element of intrigue, some violence, religious persecution, class distinctions, and the harsh realities of being a actor in that era. While the central story is based in the theater of William Shakespeare as seen through the eyes of his brother Richard, an actor, the larger story is about the growth of a new industry focusing on the people coming to a static place (theater) to see a play rather than the older traditions of taking plays out to the people. If you like the theater scene and plays you will love this. If you are not much into those things, just be prepared once in awhile to skim through some the theater and plays descriptive material - still a great read either way.

View All Comments


Add Age Suitability

There are no ages for this title yet.


Add a Summary

There are no summaries for this title yet.


Add Notices

There are no notices for this title yet.


Add a Quote

There are no quotes for this title yet.

Explore Further

Browse by Call Number


Subject Headings

LibraryThing Series Information


Find it at CRRL

To Top