Quick Book Review: Fools and Mortals by Bernard Cornwell

Time for a random book review! I’ve read several good books already in 2018, so I’ll start my reviews with the latest from Bernard Cornwell. Cornwell is well known for his Sharpe series as well as Uthred in the Saxon Stories. Though still historical fiction, Fools and Mortals is a bit of a departure from his normal writing. Here, Cornwell gives us a behind the scenes look at Shakespeare and his company as they attempt to make a living putting on plays during the time of Queen Elizabeth I. 

Richard Shakespeare is a struggling actor, overshadowed by his older brother William. Richard is approached about stealing a manuscript from his brother (original plays are quite valuable). Since William refuses to give Richard any manly parts in his plays (Richard is quite good at playing the parts of women), this is tempting for him on several levels.

Having just learned about the page 69 test (https://killzoneblog.com/2018/03/have-you-ever-tried-the-page-69-test.html), let me read to you from page 69 and you can decide if this book is for you.

“I thought he would say more, but he went back to his writing. A red kite sailed past the window and settled on the ridge of a nearby tiled roof. I watched the bird, but it did not move. My brother’s quill scratched. ‘What are you writing?’ I asked.

‘A letter.’

‘So the new play is finished?’ I asked.

‘You heard as much from Lord Hunsdon.’ Scratch scratch.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream?’

‘Your memory works. Good.’

‘In which I’ll play a man?’ I asked suspiciously.

His answer was to sigh again, then look through a heap of paper to find one sheet, which he wordlessly passed to me. Then he started writing again.”

Does this excerpt from page 69 intrigue you? Since this book started a little slow for me, maybe this would have been a better place to start–but, no, I believe the beginning was necessary.

You can listen (or read) an interview from Cornwell done by the Folger Shakespeare Library on the writing of this book.


Cornwell does not seem to have any plans to turn this into a series, but I, for one, would be glad to read more of Richard Shakespeare if he should changest his mind.


Celebrating Shakespeare

It was four years ago on a rainy Sunday afternoon that my husband and I were able to visit Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-Upon-Avon. Being able to visit England at all was a dream come true. Going into the church where Shakespeare was baptized as a baby and was also buried in was an amazing experience for me.P1000119

I should have had my husband stand next to this sign so you could see how low the door here actually is. I suppose this sign pointing to Shakespeare’s grave is taken down while they are having services, but it seemed rather makeshift for a grave that has been here for almost 400 years.


Just entering these old churches gave me a sense of awe, thinking of the history of the places. Building a place to worship God so many years ago–did any of those builders and craftsmen think this place would be here so many years later? How many sermons have been preached here and how many songs of worship have been sung?


I suppose the people that live here and worship at this church are accustomed to having Will’s grave right there, front and center. I can’t help but wonder, however, what Shakespeare himself would think about it. I’m sure he would have something clever to say. Something like: “And so from hour to hour, we ripe and ripe, and then, from hour to hour, we rot and rot; and thereby hangs a tale.” Oh, right, he wrote that in that fairly well-known play, As You Like It.


Why do we continue to celebrate the life of someone who died 400 years ago? Because his works are still alive. There are few writers whose works continue to impress with their skill at telling a story and their ability to use words as a master craftsman.

A tour of one of Shakespeare’s first folio is making its way across the United States. Read more about that here: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/shakespeares-first-folio-goes-tour-us-180957736/?no-ist

Read all of his works and looking for more? Check out these young adult titles which feature a story line taken from Shakespeare:

Still Star-Crossed Melinda Taub (Romeo & Juliet)

They Were Liars E. Lockhart (King Lear)

Loving Will Shakespeare Carolyn Meyer (fictionalized account of Shakespeare meeting future wife, Anne Hathaway)

The Fool’s Girl Celia Rees (Twelfth Night)

Enter Three Witches Caroline B. Cooney (Macbeth)

Read about these and more at: http://www.yalsa.ala.org/thehub/2016/03/25/booklist-shakespeare-inspired-ya-fiction/

I’m listening to the audio version of They Were Liars right now. What about you? Going to read any Shakespeare this weekend to celebrate the past 400 years of literary genius?

Shakespearean Teaching Aids II

The Shakespeare Stealer  by Gary Blackwood is an enjoyable way for upper elementary and middle school students to learn about the historical background of Shakespeare’s time. In this book, a young boy, Widge, is taught to write in a special cipher by his master. He is bought by another man, who instructs him to sit in on a play (Shakespeare’s Hamlet) and to take down every word in this cipher.

Widge tries to do as he instructed, having little choice, but gets in various amounts of trouble and ends up being part of the players themselves. To his surprise, he discovers he actually has some acting talents. More importantly, he learns about friendship, loyalty, and how to make some hard decisions.

The Shakespeare Stealer is geared toward middle schoolers, but I don’t believe it is too young for those in high school. I enjoyed reading it myself and found it a good way to learn more about that time period, and seeing it from a young person’s point of view.

The Shakespeare Stealer won the ALA Notable Children’s Book Award, and Blackwood followed this book with two other books: Shakespeare’s Scribe and Shakespeare’s Spy.

There are several study guides available. There is one online that was created by some students at Salisbury State University in Maryland intended for middle and high school teachers. It includes various activities, websites, an author study, and other links pertaining to Shakespearean study. You can access this site at: www.faculty.salisbury.edu/~elbond/stealer.htm

Shakespeare and the KJV

Because of the time period, some people associate Shakespeare with the KJV. However, the KJV was published in 1611. Shakespeare did most of his work between 1589-1613 and he died in 1616. The Bible with which Shakespeare would have been most familiar was the Geneva Bible.

For those of you interested in learning more about this topic and more about the KJV and its history, the Manifold Greatness Blog is a good source. Read more about Shakespeare and the Bible on one of their latest posts: manifoldgreatness.wordpress.com/2011/11/30/shakespeare-and-the-king-james-bible-ships-passing-in-the-night/


Folger Shakespeare Library

Folger’s Shakespeare Library is a major center for scholarly research. It describes itself as ‘lively venue for performances, readings, and exhibitions’ and is located in Washington, D.C. Unless you can actually manage a field trip there, the best way this library can be helpful to us as homeschoolers is to check out their website, www.folger.edu, and subscribe to their emails. They have links to helpful sites, lesson plans for teachers, and news about anything Shakespeare. One of their recent emails had these links: www.shakespeareinamericanlifekids/index.cfm & www.shakespeareinamericanlife.org/teachers/lessonplans/index.cfm

Also available at that website is a fun slideshow, showing different ways Shakespeare has been used in America from advertising to crafts. Go to:www.shakespeareinamericanlife.org/slideshow/crafts_commerce.cfm.

Continue reading

A. J. Hartley, UNCC Professor of Shakespeare

Tomorrow night, November 17th, at 7:oo Dr. A.J. Hartley will be giving the keynote address for The Big Read Union County at the Monroe Library (316 E. Windsor St.).

Dr. Hartley, a British born writer, holding a M.A. & Ph.D from Boston University, is currently the Distinguished Professor of Shakespeare at UNC Charlotte.

Dr. Hartley has also written several books for adults and young adults including: The Mask of Atreus, Act of Will, Will Power, & Macbeth A Novel. Will Power was voted one of Kirkus Reviews’ best scifi/fantasy books of 2010.

For more info about Dr. Hartley and his books, see his website: ajhartley.net

Hope to see you tomorrow night at the library!