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First Folio hit the bookstalls in 1623, nearly eight years after the dramatist’s death, it provided eighteen previously unpublished plays, and significantly revised versions of close to a dozen other dramatic works, many of which may not have survived without the efforts of those who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.
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 DailyTelegraph 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.
"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
"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
"Chris Laoutaris’s engaging account of how Shakespeare’s ‘First Folio’ was published 400 years ago yields enjoyable detail. The emphasis on the genius of Shakespeare can make you forget that his works have always been part of a curated publishing exercise. Laoutaris illustrates how the survival of Shakespeare is partly thanks to a carefully planned business strategy. As Heminges and Condell implored casual browsers, 'What ever you do, buy.'" — Suzi Feay, Financial Times "Best Books of the Week"
"[A] significant offering. His mission is admirable: to trace every major step in the collective enterprise ... to collate the Bard's works for posterity. [T]he necessary drama is there." — The Daily Telegraph
"[A] brilliant new study of the Folio’s genesis … genuinely thrilling. Shakespeare’s Book offers both wonderful vignettes of Shakespeare’s world and tantalising solutions to long-standing mysteries. Laoutaris compellingly recreates the vital collaborations - and rivalries - behind the printing of 'Shakespeare's Book'." — The Tablet
"Intricately woven, vividly depicted and groundbreaking." — Dr. Paul Edmondson, Head of Research for the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust
"In crafting this exquisite book, which takes the reader on an endlessly fascinating journey of discovery, Chris Laoutaris has achieved a labour of love on a par with the creation of the First Folio. The extensive, impeccable research has shed new light on a dazzling cast of characters and events drawn from the theatrical, social and political world of Jacobean England, as well as bringing the playwright himself vividly to life. Beautifully written and utterly compelling, this book comprises all the drama, intrigue and surprises of a Shakespeare play. A stunning achievement." — Tracy Borman, author of Anne Boleyn and Elizabeth I and Elizabeth's Women