Format Hardcover
Publication Date 04/25/23
ISBN 9781639363261
Trim Size / Pages 6 x 9 in / 560

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Shakespeare's Book

The Story Behind the First Folio and the Making of Shakespeare

Chris Laoutaris

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 Tempest, Twelfth Night, Antony and Cleopatra, The 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First Folio hit the bookstalls in 1623, nearly eight years after the dramatist’s death, it provided eighteen previously unpublished plays, and significantly revised versions of close to a dozen other dramatic works, many of which may not have survived without the efforts of those who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 Story Behind the First Folio and the Making of Shakespeare 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.

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

"A fabulous book about the making of Shakespeare’s first folio, Chris Laoutaris’s Shakespeare’s Book. It’s about the community around Shakespeare, his patrons, and his publisher. He’s seen as a solitary genius but this book makes clear how much went into the making of Shakespeare the author." Deborah Harkness, author of A Discovery of Witches, for The Boston Globe
"Shakespeare's Book is an exquisitely crafted volume, the result of such painstaking and extensive research that it could be compared with the creation of the First Folio itself. The famous playwright is just one of a dazzling cast of characters from the theatrical, social and political world of Jacobean England who are brought vividly to life in the narrative. Beautifully written and utterly compelling, it echoes the drama and intrigue of a Shakespeare play." Tracy Borman, author of Anne Boleyn & Elizabeth I: The Mother & Daughter Who Changed History
"This is Shakespearean scholarship at its best, brilliantly researched yet compulsively readable. It's a book for our times, enduringly fascinating and appealing to both enthusiasts and the general reader. Highly recommended!" Alison Weir, New York Times bestselling author 
"A richly detailed labour of love." Financial Times "Best Summer Books 2023"
"Shakespeare’s Book, a new history of the men who created the First Folio... Those seeking to learn more about the history of the First Folio could do no better than to read Laoutaris’s book: it is lively and impeccably researched."

Prospect Magazine
"Shakespeare’s Book shines a brilliant light. Meticulously researched and compellingly conveyed, Shakespeare’s Book sits comfortably alongside the likes of Stephen Greenblatt’s Will in the World and James Shapiro’s 1599 as a Shakespeare study that manages to be edifying and entertaining in equal measure. Mr. Laoutaris brings vividly alive the many individuals involved in the Folio by way of illuminating potted biographies. His book as a whole is a richly informative account of what he calls ‘one of the most significant conservation projects in history.’” The Wall Street Journal
"Shakespeare’s Book by Chris Laoutaris is a must read for anyone with even a slight passing fancy for Shakespeare. These characters come to life as the result of Laoutaris’ in-depth research into the backgrounds and politics of each. To say this is a book to be read and reread, and have a place on the library shelf, would be a major understatement." New York Journal of Books
"Like Shakespeare’s plays, Laoutaris’s book revolves around detailed interpersonal relationships. From his pages, you will learn about the lives of Heminges and Condell, the Folio’s main patrons, and many others, including Shakespeare’s friend and rival Ben Jonson and the various minor poets who offered praise of the book and its author."
Michael Dirda, The Washington Post
“Mr. Laoutaris traces the tangled negotiations that led to [the] acquisition of printing rights for the 22 plays the King’s Men did not control. His resourceful sleuthing ties the Folio’s birth to the politics of its time.” The Economist
"[A] masterful and engaging study.... impressively readable, written with pace and assurance... Shakespeare's Book is sure to take its place among this century's most valuable contributions to Shakespearean studies. By showcasing this unprecedented compilation, Laoutaris draws attention to the First Folio's importance to our awareness and appreciation of the English language's premier poet." Washington Independent Review of Books