Format Hardcover
Publication Date 06/15/15
ISBN 9781605987927
Trim Size / Pages 9.3 x 6.4 in / 528

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Shakespeare and the Countess

The Battle that Gave Birth to the Globe

Chris Laoutaris

The colorful story of the creation of the Globe Theatre—as a result of the dramatic confrontation between Lady Elizabeth Russell and William Shakespeare.

In November 1596, a woman signed a document that would nearly destroy the career of William Shakespeare . . . Who was this woman who played such an instrumental, yet little known, role in Shakespeare's life? Never far from controversy when she was alive—she sparked numerous riots and indulged in acts of breaking-and-entering, bribery, blackmail, kidnapping and armed combat—Lady Elizabeth Russell, the self-styled Dowager Countess of Bedford, has been edited out of public memory, yet the chain of events she set in motion would make Shakespeare the legendary figure we all know today. Lady Elizabeth Russell’s extraordinary life made her one of the most formidable women of the Renaissance. The daughter of King Edward VI’s tutor, she blazed a trail across Elizabethan England as an intellectual and radical Protestant. And, in November 1596, she became the leader of a movement aimed at destroying William Shakespeare’s theatrical troupe—a plot that resulted in the closure of the Blackfriars Theatre but the construction, instead, of the Globe. Providing new pieces to this puzzle, Chris Laoutaris's rousing history reveals for the first time this startling battle against Shakespeare and the Lord Chamberlain's Men.

Dr. Chris Laoutaris is a Lecturer and Birmingham Fellow at The Shakespeare Institute in Shakespeare’s birthplace of Stratford-Upon-Avon. Before that he was a long-standing Lecturer and Renaissance Literature Course Convenor at University College London, where he also completed his PhD. His most recent publication, Shakespeare and the Countess: The Battle that Gave Birth to the Globe was shortlisted for the Tony Lothian Prize and was listed as one of the Telegraph’s 'Best Books of 2014.' His recent media appearances and special events include BBC Radio London, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Radio National, and Newstalk Radio Dublin, and lectures for the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Royal Shakespeare Company, and the Royal Palace of Holyroodhouse, in association with the National Gallery of Scotland. As well as being recently commissioned as a contributor to Cambridge University’s Cambridge Guide to Shakespeare’s First Folio, Laoutaris has written for the Financial Times and Sunday Express. He is currently working on a project for the Shakespeare Institute called "Team Shakespeare: The Men who Created the Shakespeare Legacy."

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Endorsements & Reviews

“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.” 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.” 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.” Sunday Times
“Laoutaris delves into all this with immense gusto, introducing his readers to a dizzying cast of characters and approaching his subject from myriad different angles. Thanks to [his] impressive research, this largely forgotten figure emerges as a woman of great erudition, determination and courage, scarcely less remarkable than her namesake and contemporary Elizabeth I.” The Literary Review
“A work of historical and literary detection which takes us straight to the heart of religious politics in Elizabethan England.” The New Statesman
“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
“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
“It could be a tale for the stage itself, involving an ambitious parvenu, a self-styled countess, more than a hint of treachery and one of the more spectacular examples of historical Nimbysim.” Daily Telegraph
“In his compelling book Chris Laoutaris sheds new light on this turbulent episode in the Bard's career. It is a fascinating story and Laoutaris tells it with a winning combination of scholarly rigour and elegant prose. Contributing something fresh in the crowded arena of Shakespeare studies is not easy, but Laoutaris has done precisely that. A splendid book.” Herald Scotland
“The dense story of the 1596 endeavor by a powerful, litigious countess to block the opening of Shakespeare’s Blackfriars Theatre in London. Intrepid research.” Kirkus Reviews
“Genuinely groundbreaking. A kickass lady. Elizabeth Russell is awesome. It’s a thrilling tale and Laoutaris tells it superbly, with fluency and passion and a masterful eye for the dramatic. Emphatic, meticulously researched and strikingly original, Shakespeare and the Countess is bursting at the seams with new research.” Marylebone Journal (Book of the Week)
“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,' 6/27/15
“While Shakespeare serves as this book’s headline attraction, it is the ambitious, crafty, and eagerly litigious Elizabeth Russell who takes center stage in this power struggle-filled Elizabethan drama. Shakespeare scholar Laoutaris (Shakespearean Maternities) 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 and biographer 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
“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)
“A tale of 16th century NIMBYism. The Puritan termagant Elizabeth Russell mounted a successful campaign against a theatre company, which boasted one W. Shakespeare as a partner. Laoutaris has unearthed a fascinating story.” The Independent (UK)
“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
“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
“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