Fools and Mortals by Bernard Cornwell

 Fools and Mortals cover

Fools and Mortals by Bernard Cornwell is his newest book and I loved it. It’s the first book by the author that I’ve read but I’ll definitely be reading more. I have watched his series, The Lost Kingdom and bits of Sharpe which have been dramatised for TV.

In this one William Shakespeare’s much younger brother Richard has run away from home to join up with William, hoping to become an actor. William is less than pleased to see him but grudgingly allows him to play the female parts in some plays. Richard is having to live very frugally as William does him no favours and really seems to despise Richard. Richard turns thief to try to make ends meet, he’s a risk taker as every theft could easily end in him being hanged.

William has his own problems though, there are rival playhouses and companies of actors around, but a scarcity of good plays to put on. William is busy writing plays but he knows that if anyone else gets their hands on his work and performs it before his players do, they can easily pass it off as their own work, in fact they would then own it and there would be nothing he could do about it.

The blurb says: Fools and Mortals is a richly portrayed tour de force with all Bernard Cornwell’s hallmark storytelling and a remarkable cast of characters: you walk the streets, explore the palaces, experience the scandals, rivalries and fierce ambitions, and stand side by side with the men and women of Elizabethan London.

In the author’s notes Bernard Cornwell mentions that someone did lots of historical research for him, most of which wasn’t used but obviously what he was able to use must have contributed hugely to the book being such a success – for me anyway. I don’t know if the Paris Garden Stairs in Southwark are known to everyone else, possibly it’s just one of those many blank spots in my knowledge, but I don’t recall ever hearing of this part of London – Southwark, which is where Queen Elizabeth and her courtiers disembarked from their barges to get to the playhouses.

I think the only other book that I’ve read about Shakespeare is The Stratford Story by Rosemary Anne Sisson I must admit though I had remembered the title as being something different, maybe they changed it – as often happens. That’s also a good read but might be difficult to find now.

Macbeth A True Story by Fiona Watson

I saw this book at my library and as I only knew Macbeth via Shakespeare I thought it would be interesting to find out about the real story. I enjoyed the book but I do have one wee gripe about it and that is that Macbeth doesn’t make an appearance until you are more than half way through the book.

The title of the book is something of a misnomer but I have to admit that it was the title which grabbed my attention. There’s an awful lot of history to read through before you get to Macbeth who reigned from 1040 to 1057. The beginnings of Christianity in Scotland, the Romans, Viking raids and ‘kings’ who murdered each other constantly.

Those so called kings would nowadays be called gangland leaders or warlords, grabbing the top slot by violence and it was only a matter of time before someone else had a go at them.

Macbeth managed to hold onto power for 17 years and was apparently popular but has just about been written out of history because as always, the history is written by the winners and the winners were the Mac Alpins.

Macbeth’s reputation was comprehensively trashed over the centuries and it was a history by Ralph Holinshed of Macbeth which gave Shakespeare the idea for writing his play. So there is no truth in the play at all, but it served its purpose.

Shakespeare had been writing and performing for Elizabeth 1, when the company of actors had been known as The Queen’s Men. On Elizabeth’s death things must have been somewhat disconcerting for them to say the least. They were basically redundant. What was this unknown quantity King James VI (I of England) going to be like? Would he want a company of actors or not?

So Shakespeare set to buttering the King up and wrote Macbeth as the bad guy because King James was descended from the Mac Alpins who had succeeded to the throne after Macbeth. It worked, and it wasn’t long before Shakespeare’s company became The King’s Men.

There were times when ‘ma heid wis fairly birlin’ whilst reading this book, because there were so many kings and murders and strange names, and it seemed a very long time before Macbeth’s story was told, but I did enjoy it.

If you are interested in Shakespeare you might like to read this article In Search of Shakespeare’s Dark Lady, which appeared in last Saturday’s Guardian review.

Temple Grafton part 2

This is the primary school in Temple Grafton, Warwickshire. As you can see it has had a fairly nasty looking extension tacked on to what was a lovely wee building, but no doubt they needed the extra space. When we parked our car nearby it was morning break time and they certainly sounded like a very healthy and noisy bunch of youngsters. The school is across the road from the church, just down the road a few yards.

Temple Grafton school

These houses are called ‘schoolhouses’ and they’re almost right across from the school. They must have originally been for the teachers to live in, they certainly didn’t have far to go when they got up in the morning. As you can see from all the building stuff lying around – one of them is having building work done in it at the moment.

Temple Grafton schoolhouses

Considering that Temple Grafton is such a small village, there are a lot of different styles of houses, thatched wattle and daub cottages, red brick houses, stone terraces, representing the times they were built in and even 1950s, 60s and 70s houses.

Temple Grafton houses

I think this is just about the biggest house I saw there, it’s quite grand looking really and probably beautiful inside, I don’t know about you – but if it was my house it would drive me nuts that it isn’t symmetrical. It doesn’t look as if it has had bits added on to it so I think the builders must just have been rubbish at measuring. Typical, in my experience men still aren’t very good at measuring things.

Temple Grafton house

Temple Grafton is quite hilly and I took this photo from outside the thatched cottages which are in my previous blogpost. We puffed up the hill from the church so we could get a closer look at the houses, they’re a real novelty to us as there isn’t much in the way of thatch in Scotland. There is some heather thatch but I can only think of one roof like that in the whole of Fife. Anyway, as you can see, they have a nice view of the rooftops and the church spire in the middle of the village.

Temple Grafton rooftops

A bit of Shakespeare information outside the church. It says that the church is open every day but I think we must have been there too early.

Shakespeare notice

This is the back view of St Andrew’s Church, I think you’ll agree that it’s a handsome building and I would have thought that people would be queuing up to get married in it, even if it didn’t have the Shakespeare connection.

St Andrew's church Temple Grafton, Warwickshire

And that’s all the photos I have of Temple Grafton. I couldn’t see a shop or even a pub in the village, which is a real shame, so many places are losing their community spirit because there’s no place for people to congregate, but the fact that the school seems to be thriving is great, as what with all the cut backs that we’ve been having, small schools have been closed down all over the country. I think the buildings are all fairly typical of Warwickshire and I hope that it gives you a bit of an idea of the place, particularly for Debbie.

If you want a bird’s eye view of the area have a look here. It’s all very rural and if you zoom in on the fields you can often see strange circles and outlines of ancient buildings which have disappeared over hundreds of years. I find things like that fascinating.

Stratford-on-Avon, Warwickshire, England

I had been told not to bother going to visit Stratford-on-Avon but as it is only eight miles or so from Alcester were we were staying and I’ve always been keen on Shakespeare, we definitely didn’t want to miss it out, even if it was a tourist hell.

Actually it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. Yes there were legions of schoolkids from all over the world it seemed but it wasn’t as tacky as I thought it would be. We didn’t do the touristy things though so – no Anne Hathaway’s cottage for us. Shakespeare’s birthplace is more or less in the centre of the town though and we were walking past it when Jack noticed the sign – so here it is.

Strangely it doesn’t seem to be open to the public, maybe the wear and tear on it would be just too much.

Shakespeare's birthplace

This photo is of a fairly modern theatre which is more or less slap bang next to Shakespeare’s birthplace, definitely incongruous looking but you often get that in Britain and I don’t suppose places really should be preserved in aspic, modern life goes on. Anyway, I really like this motif which is decorating the front of the theatre.

modern  motif

This terrace of houses is right opposite The Royal Shakespeare Company Theatre and I wanted a photo of them just because of the amazing tree like climbing plant which is spread across them. It looks hundreds of years old, I wonder what it is.

Tree on house

It was still chucking it down with rain on and off but we were determined to have a good walk along by the river. I love bridges, old and new.

river & swans

I also love the old wooden building on the right of this photo. It must originally have been some sort of boating pavillion I think, in Edwardian times, very stylish. Now it’s a Thai restaurant!

bridge at Stratford

I have a penchant for fountains, old and new so I had to snap this one which is close to the river and theatre. Swans are a popular theme.

swan sculpture

A modern bandstand. I’m keen on bandstands although I prefer the old Edwardian ones and I once intended to go about photographing them in public parks, before they all got pulled down, but I never did get around to it. This one is quite stylish despite being modern.

bandstand

These scullers went past us at an incredible pace, I’m quite surprised that it came out at all. I hope they never fall in the river because the Avon is fairly manky. For some reason English rivers seem to be very polluted compared with Scottish rivers. I think the English water authorities must be putting a lot of unmentionable stuff into them. It’s a real shame. As you can see the area around the river is well planted with weeping willow trees, they grow so well in damp areas and I think they’re favourites with just about everyone.

scullers

So that’s Stratford. The town itself is fairly big and has the usual chains of shops that you see everywhere but I’m really not interested in shopping nowadays as I’m trying to de-clutter, not accumulate more stuff. Stratford was nicer than I thought it would be.

It was when I was looking at Shakespeare’s birthplace that I remembered that Anne Hathaway had been 30 years old when she married the 18 year old William – a shotgun wedding of course. It would be described as child abuse by quite a lot of people nowadays and must have caused a lot of gossip in Stratford at the time. In those days a 30 year old unmarried woman was very much an old maid and ‘on the shelf’. I’m just mentioning this because Lisa May over at TBR 313 was writing about couples who had large age gaps between them and I had forgotten about William and Anne. Of course that marriage wasn’t exactly a successful one.