Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Fools and Mortals

From The Federalist:
Cornwell has shown glimpses of historical dramaturgy in a couple of novels, but he pulls out all the stops in “Fools and Mortals.” We get a thorough behind-the-scenes look at the Elizabethan theater — the craft, who the actors were, and even the materials that went into make-up. “Fools and Mortals” may not feature the blood-soaked proto-England of Uhtred or the dangerous American Civil War battlegrounds of Nathaniel Starbuck, but there is plenty of grit, not a little blood, and some realistic heroism and good swordfighting. In other words, it’s a Cornwell historical.

Our hero and narrator is the morally-suspect Richard Shakespeare. As the novel begins, we find that Richard is not a fan of his older brother, William. Seems William treats Richard like hired help. While he’s gotten Richard a job at the theater, he’s left Richard scratching for pennies. Plus, William offers no hope that Richard will be able to climb the theatrical food chain and get better gigs. William can’t resist any opportunity to take a verbal jab at Richard every time he sees him. Then, he twists the knife of contumely even more, just when Richard thinks he’s escaped his brother’s tender ministrations.

Richard had arrived in London several years before, having escaped an odious carpenter’s apprenticeship arranged by his father. His brother, who has fled the confines of Stratford for his own reasons, is not amused to find a teenager at his doorstep wanting to be a player. William rather brutally hands him over to a trainer of chorister boys. There Richard receives training as an actor, a thief, a fighter, a dancer, and a prostitute for those with a taste in boys. In other words, the usual dramatic apprenticeship in 1590s London. (Read more.)


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