Photo © Hay Festival
On 29 May 2015, the Shakespeare Institute’s Dr Chris Laoutaris lectured in front of more than 500 people at the Hay Festival, following the release of the paperback version of Shakespeare and the Countess: the Battle that Gave Birth to the Globe (Penguin). Blogging for the Hay festival website, Laoutaris wrote “Lecturing at Hay was a remarkable experience. The engagement and passion of the audience, the faultless organisation from everyone who worked tirelessly behind the scenes, and the incredible atmosphere, made it utterly unforgettable”.
Laoutaris’s recounting of the clash between the indomitable noblewoman Elizabeth Russell and the Chamberlain’s Men, the theatrical troupe to which Shakespeare belonged, quickly caused ripples beyond Hay itself. The next day the Daily Telegraph ran a story on his talk, with the bold caption ‘The Bard’s Labours Lost to 16th-century Nimby’. "It could be a tale for the stage itself", reflected Hannah Furness, the Telegraph’s Arts Correspondent, “involving an ambitious parvenu, a self-styled countess, more than a hint of treachery and one of the more spectacular examples of historical Nimbysim”.
With news of the event spreading, the Daily Mail was next to showcase Laoutaris’ new findings. “The story of Shakespeare and the Countess”, wrote the Mail’s James Dunn, “has all the hallmarks of one of his famous plays – treachery, deception, death and triumph”. Dunn went on to describe the book as 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”.
Laoutaris' Hay lecture coincided with the release of the US Version of Shakespeare and the Countess by Pegasus publishers, which was heralded with a New York Times review in which Alan Riding described the “self-proclaimed dowager countess and unblushing harridan” as someone “who could have stepped out of a turbulent history play”. “Through her,” he continued, “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”.