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Shakespeare's Book

The Story Behind the First Folio and the Making of Shakespeare

Published by Pegasus Books
Distributed by Simon & Schuster
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About The Book

The never-before-told story of how the makers of The First Folio created Shakespeare as we know him today. 

2023 marks the 400-year anniversary of the publication of Mr William Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies, known today simply as the First Folio. It is difficult to imagine a world without The TempestTwelfth NightAntony and CleopatraThe Winter’s Tale, and Macbeth, but these are just some of the plays that were only preserved thanks to the astounding labor of love that was the first collected edition of Shakespeare’s plays. 

When the First Folio hit the bookstalls in 1623, nearly eight years after the dramatist’s death, it provided eighteen previously unpublished plays, and significantly revised versions of close to a dozen other dramatic works, many of which may not have survived without the efforts of those who backed, financed, curated, and crafted what is arguably one of the most important conservation projects in literary history.

Without the First Folio Shakespeare is unlikely to have acquired the towering international stature he now enjoys across the arts, the pedagogical arena, and popular culture. Its lasting impact on English national heritage, as well as its circulation across cultures, languages, and media, makes the First Folio the world’s most influential secular book. But who were the personalities behind the project and did Shakespeare himself play a role in its inception?

Shakespeare’s Book: The Intertwined Lives Behind the First Folio charts, for the first time, the manufacture of the First Folio against a turbulent backdrop of seismic political events and international tensions which intersected with the lives of its creators and which left their indelible marks on this ambitious publication-project. This story uncovers the friendships, bonds, social ties, and professional networks that facilitated the production of Shakespeare’s book—as well as the personal challenges, tragedies and dangers that threw obstacles in the path of its chief backers. 

It reveals how Shakespeare himself, before his death, may have influenced the ways in which his own public identity would come to be enshrined in the First Folio, shaping his legacy to future generations and determining how the world would remember him: "not of an age, but for all time."

Shakespeare’s Book tells the true story of how the makers of the First Folio created “Shakespeare” as we know him today.

About The Author

Dr. Chris Laoutaris is a biographer, historian, poet, Shakespeare scholar, and Associate Professor at The Shakespeare Institute in Stratford-Upon-Avon, England. He is the author of Shakespeare and the Countess: The Battle that Gave Birth to the Globe, which was shortlisted for the Tony Lothian Prize for Biography, was an London Observer Book of the Year, a Daily Telegraph Book of the Year, one of the New York Post’s "Must-Read Books.” Laoutaris is the recipient of the Morley Medal in English, the Ker Memorial Prize in English, and his first poetry collection, Bleed and See was shortlisted for the Eric Gregory Poetry Awards. He is the Co-Chair of the Shakespeare Beyond Borders Alliance and Co-Founder of the EQUALityShakespeare (EQUALS) initiative.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Pegasus Books (March 16, 2023)
  • Length: 400 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781639363261

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Raves and Reviews

Praise for Chris Laoutaris’s Shakespeare and the Countess:

“Surprising. Interesting. Elizabeth deserves the years of research and hundreds of pages that Laoutaris has given her; she can now join the gallery of neglected women resurrected by feminist scholarship.”

– The Washington Post

“Life comes close to imitating art in Shakespeare and the Countess. Laoutaris resuscitates as the great playwright’s foil the long-forgotten Elizabeth Russell, a self-proclaimed dowager countess and unblushing harridan, who could have stepped out of a turbulent history play. Laoutaris throws fascinating light on the Puritans’ determined fight against both Roman Catholicism and the newly established Church of England and on her success in preventing the Burbages, the playwright’s partners, from opening an indoor theatre in Blackfriars beside her home.”

– The New York Times

“Fabulous! Chris Laoutaris reveals an untold story about William Shakespeare. It’s a gripping tale that enables us to see Shakespeare in a new light. I could not recommend it highly enough.”

– #1 New York Times bestselling author Alison Weir

“Engaging and informative. Readers will get a bird’s eye view of court life, religious infighting, political scheming, competing spies and international intrigue at the turn of the 17th century. Laoutaris is an indefatigable researcher and a fine prose stylist.”

– Providence Journal

“One word William Shakespeare didn’t invent but could have: NIMBY. Laoutaris tells the story of Elizabeth Russell, the wealthy and educated daughter of King Edward VI's tutor. She argued that a new playhouse would bring 'all manner of vagrant and lewd persons' to her London neighborhood. Stymied, the theater group built the soon-to-be-famous Globe in another area.”

– New York Post, "This Week’s Must-Read Books"

“Shakespeare scholar Laoutaris clearly respects Russell’s ability to outmaneuver her well-heeled enemies as he fleshes out her decades of property acquisitions and continual pressure on high-ranking members of her extended Cecil and Bacon families.”

– Publishers Weekly

“Historian Chris Laoutaris tells the story of Russell's life, her epic legal battles and her capricious, violent world with sympathy, scholarship and vivid description. He has done extensive original research to piece together new insights and map the complex connections of Elizabethan society.”

– Shelf Awareness

“The story of Shakespeare and the Countess has all the hallmarks of one of his famous plays – treachery, deception, death and triumph. A fantastic tale. Laoutaris discovered a web of deceit and a true villain worthy of any of Shakespeare’s plays – as well as information previously thought lost.”

– The Daily Mail

“In this in-depth biography Laoutaris paints an engaging portrait of this powerful noblewoman. Those interested in religious history, especially the religious wars in England; the history and intrigues of Elizabethan England; women's history; and Shakespearean history will find this book an immensely riveting read.”

– Library Journal

“I'm in love with the brilliant research on display in Shakespeare and the Countess and how it brings to light Lady Elizabeth Russell, a force to be reckoned with and a trailblazing early feminist.”

– The London Observer, Best Books of the Year

“The season’s big mainstream Shakespeare book. Elizabeth Russell is a terrific subject for a biography, and Laoutaris is a hugely energetic narrator who brings every detail of his story to life. So entertaining. A big, rambunctious biography carried off with storytelling aplomb and deep, sometimes groundbreaking research.”

– Open Letters Monthly

“This is a detailed biography of a vigorous (if not likeable) woman who stood close to power throughout the reign of Elizabeth I. [Elizabeth] Russell was a remarkable person - clever, domineering and ruthless... Laoutaris has done a thorough research job.”

– The Sunday Times (London)

“A work of historical and literary detection which takes us straight to the heart of religious politics in Elizabethan England.”

– The New Statesman

“An energetic and enterprising book. Laoutaris has done some very valuable archival work. It is certainly a story worth telling, and Laoutaris tells it well.”

– London Review of Books

“Greatly enjoy[ed] Shakespeare and the Countess. Fascinating how much archives can still yield.”

– Stanley Wells, General Editor of the Oxford Shakespeare series

“A splendid and original book. No one has fleshed out the characters [in the battle for Shakespeare's playhouse] or followed in their footsteps as assiduously as Laoutaris. Shakespeare's adversary was a formidable old trout fully deserving of a biography in her own right.”

– Sunday Telegraph (Book of the Week)

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