Fools and Mortals

In this standalone novel, Bernard Cornwell makes a major departure from his usual genre with a story of the first production of A Midsummer Night's Dream—as related by William Shakespeare’s younger brother, Richard. Set in 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. 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. Bernard Cornwell also brings to the fore the perilous nature, of the nascent theatre industry facing the hatred and scorn of the religious puritans, who controlled London at that time. It was almost entirely due to the patronage of the Queen, that the players and theatre survived. A fascinating story that I thoroughly enjoyed.

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