The woman who went to war with Shakespeare

Barber Institute Concert Hall
Arts and Law, Lectures Talks and Workshops
Friday 14th October 2016 (15:00-16:00)
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Bryoney Johnson -

In November 1596 a woman led an uprising against Shakespeare’s theatrical troupe, preventing the company from occupying a new playhouse in the Blackfriars district of London.

In the process she sparked an enduring mystery, for she convinced the two men who stood to gain the most from the playwright’s continuing success to betray him. In a scarcely-believable act of disloyalty, Shakespeare’s patron, the Lord Hunsdon, and his publisher, Richard Field, joined her personal army. 

Who was the woman who played such an instrumental, yet little known, role in Shakespeare’s legacy? Why did she decide to take on the entrepreneurs behind the theatre industry, and how did she persuade the dramatist’s closest friends and allies to work against his, and their own, interests? Find out in this talk, in which Dr Chris Laoutaris, Lecturer and Birmingham Fellow at the University’s Shakespeare Institute, will draw from his book, Shakespeare and the Countess: The Battle that Gave Birth to the Globe (Penguin).

Elizabeth Russell, the self-styled Dowager Countess of Bedford, was one of the most well-connected and educated women in the country, with a fearsome reputation to match. During a long and controversial career she sparked numerous riots, and became embroiled in acts of violent affray, kidnapping, breaking-and-entering, bribery, blackmail and armed combat. For Lady Russell warfare was a way of life, as Shakespeare and the backers of the Blackfriars Theatre discovered to their cost. 

Dr Laoutaris will reveal more about Elizabeth from his book, which was shortlisted for the Tony Lothian Prize, listed as one of the ‘Best Books’ of the year by both the Telegraph and Observer, and included among the New York Post’s ‘Must-Read Books’.

Author biography

Dr Chris Laoutaris is a Lecturer and Birmingham Fellow at the Shakespeare Institute in 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 and was awarded a British Academy Post-Doctoral Fellowship. He is the author of Shakespearean Maternities: Crises of Conception in Early Modern England (Edinburgh), and is currently working on a project called Team Shakespeare: The First Folio and the Men who Created the Shakespeare Legacy. He has also written for the Financial Times, Sunday Express, Times Higher Education Supplement, BBC History Magazine, and History News Network, USA.