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Shakespeare and the Countess


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The first ever biography of Lady Elizabeth Russell, the woman who waged battle against Shakespeare

About the Author

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.


A splendid and original book * Sunday Telegraph, Book of the Week *

Fabulous!...I could not recommend it highly enough.

-- Alison Weir
Greatly enjoying Shakespeare and the Countess ... Fascinating how much archives can still yield. -- Stanley Wells
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 *
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 *
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 *
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 *
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 *
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 *
[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 *
Chris Laoutaris sheds light on the life of the woman who waged battle against the Bard * Big Issue North *
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) *
A distinguished biography . . . [and] an impressive feat of archival research by Chris Laoutaris. * Around the Globe (the magazine of Shakespeare's Globe) *
[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] 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 *
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 *
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 *
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 *
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 *
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' *
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 *
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 *
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 *
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 *
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 *

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