Fools and Mortals: A Novel
William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is fraught with mistaken identity, royal intervention, humor, and intrigue. Prolific historical fiction writer Bernard Cornwell turns his attention to the creation of this play and the discord between writer William and his younger brother, Richard Shakespeare, in Cornwell’s latest novel, Fools and Mortals.
The title comes from a line in the play–“What fools these mortals be”–delivered by the fairy trickster Puck to his king, Lord Oberon. Upon reading Cornwell’s novel, I wondered who were meant to be the corollary fools: the brothers Shakespeare in their familial unrest or the political parties warring over the theatrical landscape in Elizabethan England.
As a teacher of Shakespeare, I’m always drawn to books that take a closer look at his life and the construction of his works. And, though this account is fictional, it is right up my alley. The early part of the novel, however, may be a bit exhausting for those who do not share my natural inclination to the bard.
Richard’s voice is wry and detailed, I kept imagining him after the fashion of Rupert Everett’s character in My Best Friend’s Wedding. I was intrigued by the story, though there were moments when I would have preferred more action over a description of the brocade of a set of drapes or the paneled silk of a dress.
All in all, whether you are a Shakespeare fan or a history buff, Fools and Mortals will more than scratch your itch.