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Bernard Cornwell branches into a new area of history in his latest novel, Fools and Mortals.
FOOLS AND MORTALS
By FIONA GLASGOW
Cornwell delves deep into the rich history of the Elizabethan era and the dramatic world of the theatre as it was over 400 years ago. The novel follows the downtrodden Richard Shakespeare, brother of none other than the famous William Shakespeare, as his theatre troupe prepares for the opening night of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Since there is little concrete evidence about Richard Shakespeare other than he existed, Cornwell is able to flesh out Richard into a very real and well-written character. There is little love shared between the brothers, and Richard finds he must rely on his own wits, rather than those of his clever brother, to survive in the highly political world of Elizabethan England.
Cornwell has clearly done an astonishing amount of research in writing this novel. There are little details on every page that make the story feel detailed and realistic, including his rich descriptions of London as it was in 1595 (i.e. quite disgusting!).
Learning little pieces of Elizabethan history, such as how male actors prepared for their roles as women (which involved tasks such as plucking their forehead to raise their hairline, as was fashionable with women at the time) make the novel an interesting read, even without the engaging storyline. There are constant references to Shakespeare’s works, and the novel really helps you understand the tumultuously political world that he wrote for.
Fools and Mortals is a delight to read. It is less violent than Cornwell’s previous works, but even though the setting is the stage rather than the battlefield, the danger and intrigue is just as real.
If you are a lover of Shakespeare then I highly recommended you pick up Fools and Mortals for an entertaining summer read.
- Fiona Glasgow is an Otago Museum staff member and avid reader.