Shakespeare’s Book: The Intertwined Lives Behind the First Folio by Chris Laoutaris Book Review

Shakespeare’s Book: The Intertwined Lives Behind the First Folio by Chris Laoutaris Book Review

Shakespeare’s Book is a misleading title, and I’m glad for it. This is not just the story of one great man and his textual legacy. Laoutaris succeeds finding the entwined lives behind the First Folio. In short: there’s more to this book than just a book!
From the busy backrooms of London printing shops to the elaborate masques of court, Laoutaris guides his reader through the many echelons of Jacobean London, introducing us to a network of printers, stationers, actors, courtiers, and entrepreneurs. The First Folio is the reader’s reference point as they are introduced to the complex social fabric of Early Modern England. He flexes an extraordinary eye for detail (think the various costs of paper and complexities of Jacobean copyright) whilst always gesturing to the bigger picture: war in Europe, court rivalries, and sectarian unrest.
Yet for me, Shakespeare’s Book is at it’s most compelling when Laoutaris traces the human connections behind the Folio. He emphasises the collaborative spirit that produced this text, successfully managing to navigate a complex web of relationships that crisscross a rapidly changing urban environment. There are equal doses of social and material histories, with just enough off-stage drama to balance out the more technical moments of cases and presswork.
I would happily recommend this book to anyone with an interest in Early Modern history, literary studies, and Jacobean theatre. Whilst not highly academic, a moderate grounding in some of the period’s major historical developments would make this a swifter read. But Laoutaris’ style is always accessible, and his passion for this moment in literary history is certainly infectious!


Reviewed by George (Assistant to the Education Directors) 


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