In November 1596 a woman signed a document which would nearly destroy the career of William Shakespeare... Who was the woman who played such an instrumental, yet little known, role in Shakespeare's life?
William Shakespeare, the dowager countess Elizabeth Russell and the battle which nearly destroyed the bard and gave birth to the globe theatre. 'A work of historical and literary detection which takes us straight to the heart of religious politics in Elizabethan England . . . There is a great deal to admire in this hugely ambitious book . . . and Laoutaris paints a striking biographical portrait.' Frances Wilson, New Statesman 'Fascinating, compelling, impressive detective work. Laoutaris sheds new light on this turbulent episode in the Bard's career. He tells it with a winning combination of scholarly rigour and elegant prose. A splendid book that tells us a great deal about the machinations of high politics, the skirmishes of Elizabethan cultural life, and a woman who played a key role in the career of our greatest dramatist.' Herald 'A gripping tale that enables us to see Shakespeare in a new light. Elizabeth Russell, unjustly infamous in legend, deserves to be better known. I could not recommend it highly enough.' Alison Weir 'Splendid, original. No one has fleshed out the characters or followed in their footsteps as assiduously as Laoutaris.' Sunday Telegraph
Dr Chris Laoutaris graduated from University College London and went on to gain a doctorate from the same institution, where he was awarded a coveted three-year British Academy Post-Doctoral Fellowship to research Shakespeare and the Countess. After becoming Renaissance Literature Course Convenor at UCL, he achieved a prestigious Birmingham Fellowship at The Shakespeare Institute, where he is currently lecturing. Shakespeare and the Countess was shortlisted for the Tony Lothian Prize and is his first biography.
Always 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, USA 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 . . . and it's all so entertaining . . . The whole thing is carried off with storytelling aplomb and deep, sometimes ground breaking research. Open Letters Monthly, USA No, we have no idea why the formidable historical figure Lady Elizabeth Russell hasn't been the star of a play or movie yet . . . She's a compelling villain/heroine. Infuriated that a new theatre was opening right next to her home, Lady Elizabeth (who styled herself the Dowager Countess) mounted a furious assault against Shakespeare's new home, driven by religious passion . . . and, let's face it, good old not-in-my-backyard-ism . . . This showdown is presented with verve by historian Chris Laoutaris and virtually every critic has commented that it's a tale worthy of Shakespeare's gifts `Bookfilter's Best of Summer Picks', Broadway Direct Lady Elizabeth Russell is the star of Shakespeare and the Countess . . . 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. Shakespeare's story is a central incident . . . strengthened and illuminated by the broad and deep context Laoutaris has built up. Shelf Awareness, USA Surprising . . . interesting. . . [Elizabeth Russell] was certainly a rich, famous, extraordinary, cosmopolitan and ambitious woman who by turns fascinated and exasperated the men around her . . . Laoutaris has discovered a lot of fascinating details . . . Elizabeth deserves the years of research . . . Laoutaris has given her; she can now join the gallery of neglected women resurrected by feminist scholarship. -- Professor Gary Taylor The Washington Post 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, `Week's Must-Read Books' 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 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 . . . [This is] the story of how William Shakespeare's early plans for a theatre . . . were thwarted by the outrageous Lady Russell. Daily Telegraph An engaging portrait of this powerful noblewoman . . . The author shows, by deftly weaving the events during Russell's lifetime and her personal impacts played therein, that he exhaustively researched his subject . . .an immensely riveting read. Library Journal, USA Life comes close to imitating art in Shakespeare and the Countess. Here 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 . . . Through her, 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. New York Times [A] tale of 16th century NIMBYism. The Puritan termagant Elizabeth Russell mounted a successful campaign against the . . . theatre company, which boasted one W. Shakespeare as a partner . . . [Laoutaris] has unearthed a fascinating story. Independent [T]he ambitious, crafty, and eagerly litigious Elizabeth Russell . . . takes centre stage in this power struggle-filled Elizabethan drama. The self-proclaimed countess threatened Shakespeare's livelihood . . . but her opposition inadvertently resulted in the creation of the famous Globe Theatre, which secured the Bard's legacy . . . Russell's voice is heard strongly . . . As Laoutaris shows, Russell - a "staunch Puritan," funerary monument designer, and the only female sheriff in Elizabethan England - was worthy of starring in a Shakespearean drama. Publishers Weekly, USA A distinguished biography . . . [and] an impressive feat of archival research by Chris Laoutaris. Around the Globe (the magazine of Shakespeare's Globe) Genuinely groundbreaking . . . 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. Marylebone Journal (Book of the Week) Chris Laoutaris sheds light on the life of the woman who waged battle against the Bard Big Issue North [An] energetic and enterprising book. He has done much original research, adding new details to the history of the [Blackfriars] playhouse, and to our knowledge of Elizabethan and Jacobean Blackfriars . . . Elizabeth Russell was a powerful figure . . . a fearsome Elizabethan version of Lady Bracknell or Bertie Wooster's Aunt Agatha . . . Laoutaris has done some very valuable archival work . . . It is certainly a story worth telling, and Laoutaris tells it well. -- Charles Nicholl London Review of Books Elizabeth Russell was a force to be reckoned with [and] is the indefatigable heroine of [the] book . . . [She was] the woman who forced the company [the Chamberlain's Men] across the Thames to create their crucible of theatrical poetry, the Globe The 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 -- Anne Somerset Literary Review 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 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 A work of historical and literary detection which takes us straight to the heart of religious politics in Elizabethan England . . . there is a great deal to admire in this hugely ambitious book. -- Frances Wilson New Statesman I am in love with the brilliant research on display in Shakespeare and the Countess and how it brings to the fore Lady Elizabeth Russell, a trailblazing early feminist. -- Amma Asante Observer Books of the Year 2014 Greatly enjoying Shakespeare and the Countess ... Fascinating how much archives can still yield. -- Stanley Wells Fabulous!...I could not recommend it highly enough. -- Alison Weir A splendid and original book Sunday Telegraph, Book of the Week