I love historical fiction in general, but I absolutely love novels about Shakespeare, Elizabethan/Jacobean England, and more. So I was excited to read Bernard Cornwell’s January 2018 release, Fools and Mortals.
Cornwell is the prolific author of the Sharpe series of novels, the Last Kingdom series, and more. Fools and Mortals is his first (and perhaps) only foray into Shakespeareana, which he explains in interviews as an outgrow of his fairly recent experiences of acting in Shakespeare.
The book’s protagonist, however, is not William Shakespeare. It is his younger brother, Richard (about whom history knows nothing beyond his birth date, death date, and record of being fined for not attending church). Cornwell places Richard as a young actor in The Lord Chamberlain’s Men (William’s theater company) who becomes entwined in a conspiracy to steal the Bard’s newest plays: A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Romeo and Juliet.
The story is absorbing and appealing whether the reader is familiar with (or enamored of) Shakespeare’s plays or not. I found the details about the period and the plays absolutely engrossing, and loved how Cornwell wove the plot through the company’s efforts to stage Shakespeare’s great comedy, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The artful characterization of the secondary characters, from the clown, Will Kemp, to the shareholders Burbage, Condell, and Heminges, and the Lord Chamberlain himself, only added to the enjoyment.