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Shakespeare biographer James Shapiro wins Sheridan Morley Prize

Author and Sheridan Morley Prize winner James Shapiro
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James Shapiro has won this year’s Sheridan Morley Prize for Theatre Biography.

Shapiro, who is a professor at Columbia University in New York and specialises in Shakespeare, was given the award for 1606: William Shakespeare and the Year of Lear.

The book charts the year in which Shakespeare wrote King Lear, Antony and Cleopatra and Macbeth.

This year’s prize celebrated theatre biographies published in 2015.

Other titles shortlisted for the award included John Osborne: ‘Anger is Not About…’ by Peter Whitebrook, David Hare’s The Blue Touch Paper, Qais Akbar Omar and Stephen Landrigan’s A Night in the Emperor’s Garden and Let Me Play the Lion Too: How to Be an Actor by Michael Pennington.

The award was established in memory of writer and critic Sheridan Morley, who became known for his biographies of theatre figures.

Shapiro, who could not attend the ceremony in person, said: “The Sheridan Morley award is especially meaningful to me because my Shakespeare is a man of the theatre and my book is as much about the theatre as it is about the writer himself. It is as much a celebration of one of the greatest seasons of plays as it is about the playwright who contributed so greatly to it.”

The judging panel was chaired by Morley’s widow, Ruth Leon. It comprised last year’s winner, former New Yorker critic John Lahr, actor Kika Markham and theatre critic Benedict Nightingale.

Lahr described Shapiro’s book as having a “daring approach”, adding: “It is written with great strategic narrative skill, a very, good clear English and is organised extremely well. The adjective that comes to my mind for the book is luscious.”

Shapiro, who also sits on the board of the Royal Shakespeare Company, received £2,000 as part of the prize.

Now in its ninth year, it was awarded at a ceremony at the Garrick Club in central London.

Previous winners of the prize include Dominic Dromgoole, Simon Callow and Stephen Sondheim.